By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
With the graduation of center Keane Thomann and guard Jason Adams, Missouri Southern lost approximately 40 points per game off last year’s team that finished 22-8 and lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
This season the Lions look to be more balanced — and a little more deliberate — on offense.
“We’ll be a lot more balanced, and I really think we’ll be a better defensive team,” said Robert Corn, starting his 24th year as the Lions’ head coach. “Hopefully we can create some offense out of our defense.
“We may not score as many points as we did last year, but what difference does it make if you win 85-80 versus 72-67. As long as you win, that’s the most important thing.
“Offensively we won’t play with as many quick-hitters as we have in the past. Obviously with the shot clock, you’re going to have to shoot the basketball, but I think we’ll try to spread the floor and do a lot more picking out on the floor and try to utilize our big guys out on the floor a little more than we have in the past. When we had Keane, we didn’t want him to stray away from the basket very far. Now we have some guys who can pick-and-pop and stretch defenses.”
The Lions open regular-season play tonight at home against John Brown University. Tipoff is at 7 in the Leggett & Platt Athletic Center.
Juniors Marquis Addison and Jordan Talbert are the most experienced on a 14-man roster that does not have a senior. Addison, 6-4 guard, averaged 11.7 points and is one of the best free-throw shooters in school history, hitting 110-of-130 attempts (84.6 percent) last season. Talbert, 6-5 forward, contributed eight points and was the team’s second-leading rebounder at 6.3 per game.
“Marquis was (MIAA) freshman of the year, then last year he made third team all-conference,” Corn said. “You hope he makes that gradual improvement to where he’s one of the top 10 players in the conference. Jordan didn’t play a lot early in his freshman year, started at the tail end of his freshman year and then was honorable mention last year. You hope he makes that gradual improvement to be a top player in the conference.”
Guards Matt Everson (3.3 points) and Morgan Smith (1.9) and forward Stephen Atkinson (2.1) came off the bench last season. Everson moves into the starting lineup this year.
R.J. Leverette, 6-0 sophomore, steps in at point guard. He averaged 9.7 points and 3.2 assists last season at Sheridan (Wyo.) College. He averaged 19.2 points and 6.1 assists as a senior on Grandview’s state championship team.
“The addition of R.J. is going to make us a better basketball team,” Corn said. “I think he makes good decisions, does a lot for us out on the floor.”
Greg Renfroe, 6-8 freshman who spent a redshirt season with the Lions last year, and Bryan Adams, 6-7 junior who was a reserve last year at William Jewell, will split time at center.
“It’s going to be important for Greg and Bryan to be solid at the 5 spot,” Corn said. “Our returning guys have gotten better, and as we find out where we can place our new guys, we’ll continue to improve.”
Other newcomers are transfers Cameron Cornelius and Wendell Pelts and freshmen Austin Wright, Blaine Miller, P.J. Rivera and Devin Spencer.
“We’re still trying to find out our right rotation,” Corn said. “It may be all year that we’re searching for it because guys haven’t been able to separate from each other. If not, then whoever is playing the best in practice will get the first look, and if they do the job, they’ll get a second look. If they don’t, then we’ll give somebody else an opportunity. … I think we can center in on five or six players; after that, whoever is playing well will get the opportunity.”