By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
After digging out of an 11-point hole in the last 10 minutes of the first half, Missouri Southern’s women’s basketball team gave a collective sigh of relief.
Jolee Sharp and Tee Singleton then ignited the Lions to a seven-point lead in the first three minutes of the second half en route to a 72-58 victory over Newman on Thursday night at the Leggett & Platt Athletic Center.
Sharp, 5-foot-9 junior guard from Fort Scott, popped in 17 points to lead the Lions (3-1). After missing four of five shots in the first half, she poured in 15 points in the second half, nine of them in the first 51⁄2 minutes as the Lions opened a 41-33 lead.
“Jolee continues to gain more confidence,” Lions coach Maryann Mitts said. “The last two games, Jo has really started to develop to where she can come off the on-the-ball screen and start to create some things not only for herself but for her teammates.”
While Sharp was the only Lion in double figures, Singleton and Dominique Mosley contributed nine points apiece, and five more Lions had at least five points. Erin Rice’s eight rebounds led the Lions to a 36-31 advantage on the boards, and Singleton dished out four assists, one more than Rice and Shatara Stone.
Guard Kianna Flannagan netted 21 points for the Jets (1-2), and forward Alexandra Ciabattoni had 16.
Johnna tenBerge’s 3-pointer in the last minute of the first half helped the Lions pull even 27-27 at the break. Newman ran off 12 straight points for a 19-8 lead midway through the first half before the Lions began their rally with a 6-0 spurt.
“The comeback helped so much going into halftime,” Mitts said. “When it’s 27-27, you can psychologically say we’re going to start over, and whatever happened in the first half, let’s forget about it and move forward.
“I thought there was a sense of relief at halftime. We made it through that, and now let’s go. I thought our starters in the second half did a great job of starting like they are supposed to do.”
Shonte Clay hit the back end of a two-shot free throw to put the Lions ahead to stay, and Sharp scored the next four points on a layup after a drive from the left wing and two charities. Samantha Soyez — a transfer from Newman — scored from the lane before Singleton’s steal set up Sharp’s layup for a 36-29 lead with 17:08 to play.
Newman pulled within 36-33 before Singleton made two free throws after being fouled on a drive to the basket. Three-pointers by Sharp, off an assist from Rice, and tenBerge, off a pass from Singleton, widened the margin to 44-33 with 13:50 left.
“Tee was pivotal,” Mitts said. “I really challenged her this week. I knew that matchup was going to be key. I know Flannagan had 21, but I thought we kept her out of rhythm for a lot of the game. We kept her questioning herself, and when she did that, I thought that bled over to some other players.
“I thought Tee played her best game of the year. She played both ends of the floor. She produced for us, she kept us in our offense, and she really created a nice tempo.”
Missouri Southern led 48-42 after Ciabattoni put back her own missed shot. The Jets, however, did not make another field goal for the next nine minutes as the Lions pushed their lead to 64-50.
“It was our goal to hold them under 60 points,” Sharp said.
The Lions shot 60 percent (12-of-20) in the second half to raise their game total to 51 percent (22-of-43) while the Jets were 20-of-59 for 34 percent, including 2-of-18 from beyond the arc.
The Lions are idle until next weekend when they entertain Avila and Evangel in the Pizza Hut⁄Fairfield Inn Thanksgiving Classic.