By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
The two-game winning streak ended, but Missouri Southern’s improved play continued in Wednesday night’s 77-73 loss at Northeastern State.
“The mood (in the locker room after the game) was down,” said junior forward Jordan Talbert, who had 21 points, 10 rebounds and two blocked shots. “Losing never feels good.
“But it’s optimistic. As of late we’ve been playing pretty well. We definitely played a lot better here than we did the first time we played them. We proved that we have gotten better. We can see the progress.”
“The thing we talked about is we can’t let this hinder what we do Saturday,” Lions coach Robert Corn said. “We have two home games left, and those home games are crucial to our season. We have to make sure we prepare for them and go out and play and compete as hard as we possibly can.”
The Lions tip off their final homestand of the season tonight against Emporia State.
Like the Lions, the Hornets saw a two-game winning streak end on the road Wednesday night with an 83-69 loss at Central Oklahoma.
Missouri Southern is looking to avenge a 76-62 loss last month at Emporia State. Guard Kaleb Wright had 19 points for ESU, and center Paul Bunch had 18 points and nine rebounds.
Guard R.J. Leverette hit 6-of-7 treys while scoring 22 points for the Lions, and Marquis Addison had 16.
Led by the 6-foot-11 Bunch, the Hornets outrebounded MSSU 37-27 and had a 7-2 edge in second-chance points. The Hornets also had a 14-4 advantage in points off turnovers.
Those same areas hurt the Lions at Northeastern State. While both teams had 35 rebounds, the RiverHawks had three more offensive boards and a 17-8 margin in second-chance points. NSU also scored 18 points off turnovers to the Lions’ six.
“They got some offensive rebounds that hurt us,” Corn said. “We got to the free-throw line good in the first half, but we were 10-of-16 and two of the misses were front ends of 1-and-1s. If we make our free throws like we normally do, if we keep them off the glass like we normally do, then we probably have a seven- or eight-point lead at halftime (instead of a one-point deficit).”
Sophomore Stephen Atkinson contributed 15 points for the Lions. Two fouls limited him to two points and four minutes in the first half, but he popped in 5-of-8 field goals in the second half, 3-of-4 from beyond the arc.
“My shot felt well,” said Atkinson, who had nine field goals in the previous seven games. “Normally if I see one of them fall, it’s a pretty good night for me and I can get others to fall.”
“He hit that first shot in the second half,” Corn said. “And then when he hit the second one, he started getting a lot of confidence and started looking for his shot a little more. If he can shoot the basketball on a consistent basis like he did Wednesday night, that really helps us. That spreads the floor and allows more opportunities to drive to the basket.”