By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
On the trip to Joplin, Lizzy Jeronimus informed the Pittsburg State team that she had the flu.
However, her play on the court certainly showed no sign of illness.
Jeronimus, 5-foot-11 sophomore, tallied 24 points on a near-perfect shooting night, and Bridget Hesser hit a key basket in the final minute as the No. 24 Gorillas held off Missouri Southern 66-63 Wednesday night in a Sonic Trophy Series contest before 2,365 fans at the Leggett & Platt Athletic Center.
Jeronimus hit her first five shots from the floor and finished 9-of-10 from the field — she missed a 3 early in the second half — and 5-of-5 at the foul line in 26 minutes. She made an early trip to the bench — not because of a turnover, but because PSU coach Lane Lord was giving her a breather.
“He was just trying to get me as much rest as possible,” Jeronimus said. “I told him I was sick before the game, and he said Michael Jordan played through the flu, so you can do that. So I knew I had to step up.”
“She’s a phenomenal player,” Lions forward Erin Rice said. “I’m not too sure many people are going to be able to stop her. Credit to her for being able to do what she can do.”
After being informed Jeronimus had the flu, “So did Michael Jordan,” Rice said.
“She’s a great player,” Lions coach Maryann Mitts said. “I sure would have liked to have taken away her left-handed layups. That’s the key, and nobody does that. Nobody can do that. There are many ways you can try to contain her. I’m not sure you can stop her. She’s a very good basketball player. She’s a very good basketball player who knows her strengths, and they utilize her strengths very well.”
Jeronimus, last year’s conference freshman of the year, leads the conference at 19 points per game this season.
“I think what makes her better this year is her mental toughness,” Lord said. “Tonight we found out on the way she had the flu, and on the bus ride over I was a nervous wreck. Coach (Amanda) Davied and I talked to her about Michael Jordan in the playoffs against the Utah Jazz when he had the fu. And she did what All-Americans do. She put the team on her back, sucked it up and made big play after big play. She had some good kickouts, she finished with contact on her drives, and she made her free throws.”
The Lions (10-4, 4-2 MIAA) trailed 21-8 midway through the first half and 31-24 at halftime before battling back to tie the game at 37-37 on Tee Singleton’s 3-pointer with 15:20 left.
Cathy Brugman, who missed the previous three games with a knee injury, hit a wide-open trey from the top of the key 25 seconds later to put the Gorillas ahead to stay. The Lions made one final push in the last three minutes with a 9-3 spurt to pull within 64-61 on Singleton’s jumper in the lane with 1:02 left
The Gorillas worked almost the entire 30 seconds off the shot clock before Hesser’s jumper from the left of the lane banked in for a five-point lead with 32 seconds left. The Lions’ Sharese Jones made two free throws with 0.9 seconds left for the final margin.
“We’re happy with the win,” Jeronimus said. “We could have done some things better, but we’re happy to come out on top.”
“This is all about a team effort,” Lord said. “Bridget Hesser steps up and takes a charge, makes two free throws, hits a shot with no time on the shot clock. Drew Roberts, getting out of her slump a little bit, hits two big 3s (while scoring 13). Alexa hit a huge 3 late. Different players stepped up all night long.”
Rice led the Lions with 14 points, and Singleton added 10. The Lions committed a season-low nine turnovers but shot 39 percent (22-of-56) and were outrebounded 35-24.
“We didn’t play our game whatsoever from start to finish,” Rice said. “We didn’t execute our plays like we needed to execute. Our defense played a huge role in those comebacks, but then we’d give up a 3. We definitely fought back, but it just wasn’t good enough.”
“The first 10 minutes really hurt us,” Mitts said. “When you start out that way against such a high-quality basketball team, I think as players you question yourself. You might question the game plan a little bit … is this going to work. It worked when we did it. I was proud of the way we came back in the first half. I thought if we could make it a ball game at halftime, we could come out in the second half and be very competitive. I wish we would have had a little bit more competitiveness in our fight. We just didn’t have the emotion that we typically have when we play.”
The Gorillas (10-4, 4-2) shot 53 percent (25-of-47).
“They had some kids step up and hit some key shots,” Mitts said. “I can look at the last two minutes … a running jumper, a running floater, a wide-open 3. They hit some 3s and they hit some jumpers with the shot clock going down that really hurt us. That’s where we could never really get our bounce in our step. They came up with the big shot.”
The Lions have another home game Saturday afternoon against Nebraska-Kearney.
Morgan Westhoff and Jeronimus combined to score nine straight points as the Gorillas opened a 21-8 lead midway through the first half. First Westhoff rebounded her own missed shot and scored in the lane, then Jeronimus scored twice on the inside before Westhoff hit a 3 from the right wing.
The Gorillas widened their lead to 27-12 after a trey by Drew Roberts and three-point play by Jeronimus before the Lions outscored PSU 12-4 in the last five minutes of the half.
Rice made a 3 from the left side and two free throws on consecutive trips, and the Lions ended the half on a 7-0 run as Tee Singleton hit a 3 from the left corner and Nicole Hartzog scored twice off the drive.to
The Gorillas shot 54 percent (13-of-24) in the half and outrebounded the Lions 22-11 to help overcome 11 turnovers. The Lions made only three turnovers but shot 30 percent (9-of-30).