By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
Sharese Jones staged her collegiate coming-out party on Saturday night.
Jones fired in a career-high 17 points, including a key three-point play down the stretch, and Missouri Southern held on to nip Missouri Western 78-76 in an MIAA thriller at the Leggett & Platt Athletic Center.
The Lions (8-3, 2-1 MIAA) owned the lead almost the entire first 28 minutes, but the closing 12 minutes included 10 lead changes and two ties.
Consecutive baskets by Jones — the first after a baseline drive and the second after a pinpoint pass from Samantha Soyez — gave the Lions a 57-50 lead with 13:52 left. But the Griffons answered with eight straight points for a 58-57 advantage with 10:50 to play.
There were seven lead changes during the next three minutes before Heather Howard’s trey from the right wing and left-handed shot in the lane gave the Griffons a 68-64 lead with 6:50 remaining. But the Lions pulled even at 70-all on buckets by Jones and Shatara Stone.
Lanicia Lawrence hit the back end of a two-shot foul to give the Griffons a 73-72 lead with 1:44 to play.
On the Lions’ trip, Jones got possession to the right of the lane and stepped in for the basket as she was fouled. She added the free throw for a 75-73 lead with 1:23 left.
“I saw my teammate coming toward me, and I saw that there was a gap,” Jones said. “So I V-cut behind my player and she dumped me the ball. I saw an open lane, so I took it up and got fouled and made it.”
The Lions retained the lead as Nicole Hartzog hit two free throws after a coast-to-coast drive with 51 seconds left and Soyez made one with 26 seconds left. The Griffons got two shots in the last 10 seconds but missed a 3 and a midrange jumper.
Jones, averaging 5.7 points for the season, hit 6-of-11 field goals and 5-of-5 free throws for her 17 points. She also had three assists, four steals, one blocked shot and only one turnover in 33 minutes.
“I don’t know. Something just kicked in,” Jones said. “Just be aggressive, take it to the hole and help the team out.”
“She played well in the second game of the year over in Pittsburg (14 points against Southwest Minnesota State),” Lions coach Maryann Mitts said. “I thought she would play a little bit better in her first start, but she played so tentative. … I knew she would probably come out and play more aggressive.”
Soyez, 5-11 junior who transferred from Newman, also set a season high with 11 points, and Jolee Sharp and Erin Rice both had 10.
“I have to really credit Sam,” Mitts said. “She had that stretch where she had five turnovers. I don’t really care about mistakes. I care about what you do after a mistake. I know Sam would turn the ball over, but then she would go down and make a layup or hit a big jumper in the middle of the paint.”
Howard, 6-3 senior transfer from Oklahoma State, had 14 points for the Griffons (9-3, 2-2), and Denise White added 11.
The Lions shot 50 percent (26-of-52) and were 23-of-29 at the line while the Griffons hit 36 percent (22-of-61) and sank 26-of-34 charities.
“I thought the tempo helped our team,” Mitts said. “We play better when we play a little faster tempo without getting out of control. I was hoping they would press us, make us play up tempo. We would take the thinking out of it. We’d been thinking too much, and it was paralysis by analysis I thought in the last game. We didn’t have time to think tonight. We had to react, and for the most part our decision-making was good.”
The Lions play two road games next week – Thursday night at Lindenwood and Saturday afternoon at Lincoln.