By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
The final season statistics reflect that Missouri Southern played a lot of close games during the women’s basketball season.
The Lions scored 1,703 points in 27 games, and their opponents had 1,702.
The Lions went 6-2 against league opponents in games decided by six points or less. They lost three conference games by seven points, including one to Nebraska-Kearney in overtime, and they were 1-9 against seven conference teams that were nationally ranked at some point of the season.
“We were about 30 points away from being an exceptional team,” Lions coach Maryann Mitts said. “The Kearney game stung the most. I can think of three times that we didn’t show up and were not competitive. We had a chance to win every other ball game. I was pleased with the heart the players showed. We had some impressive comebacks. We played some explosive spurts during the season.”
The Lions’ final records of 14-13 overall and 8-10 in conference play showed drastic improvement over the previous season when they were 8-18 and 4-16, beating only two league teams.
“After last year we knew we had to make some changes,” Mitts said. “We were fortunate enough to get a very good nucleus of players who bought into our system, bought into the way we play. It was a big step back to where we’ve always been.”
Tuesday night’s 77-72 loss to Northwest Missouri State in the MIAA Postseason Tournament was the Lions’ season in a nutshell. There were stretches of inconsistent play — the Lions trailed by 10 points at halftime and 18 early in the second half — and extended minutes of remarkable play — a 26-6 burst over eight minutes to turn the big deficit into a two-point lead.
Home victories over Newman 72-58 and Drury 62-59 — after trailing by 14 points in the second half — highlighted the nonconference slate. The Lions began January with four victories but then ran into murderer’s row, facing eight top-tier teams in a 10-game stretch.
The Lions played their best basketball in Febuary, and they ended the regular season with three victories — two against Central Oklahoma sandwiched around a road victory over Pittsburg State.
“Erin Rice’s play improved,” Mitts said. “She was able to become the player who made the big shot, and her defense became so much better. Also we stopped turning the ball over as much. Although our turnovers were still higher than we wanted, we did a better job of taking care of the basketball.”
The Lions also got improved play in the post late in the season.
“Shonte (Clay) played better, Dominique (Mosley) played better,” Mitts said. “When our post play got better, we became a much more consistent ball club. Our defense was better, and when our defense started to turn the corner at the end of January, you started to see us be very competitive against some very good teams.”
Point guard Tee Singleton also improved her play. Even when she had turnover problems, her hustle and tenacity at both ends of the floor were vital in the Lions’ success.
“That young lady came in a little undisciplined, not quite sure how to run a program, run a team,” Mitts said. “She is one of the players who came in and worked hard every day. It was nice to see her mature and grow and gain confidence as the second semester hit. She has the capability of being one of the best point guards in the league, it not the best, with a great offseason.”
The biggest disappointment was Tuesday’s loss, which kept the Lions from advancing to Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City.
“This group deserved to go,” Mitts said. “I would have liked to have this group get the opportunity to experience Kansas City and what all it means. We were a game short of Kansas City, five points short of really having a nice year. No doubt, what hurts me today is those kids have to stay home this weekend.”
Looking ahead, Rice was the only senior on the roster.
“We have a great foundation, a good nucleus coming back,” Mitts said. “We have a lot of experience. We need to get four players who can come in and make an impact in our program.”