By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
Austin Wright’s near-perfect 3-point sniping in the second half rallied Missouri Southern from a six-point deficit early in the second half, and the Lions’ near-perfect free-throw shooting in the last 3 1/2 minutes nailed down an 85-77 victory over Central Oklahoma on Monday night at the Leggett & Platt Athletic Center.
The Lions (12-12, 7-9 MIAA), playing for the first time in eight days, halted a two-game losing streak and earned a berth in next week’s MIAA postseason tournament play-in game on Monday night.
“That was our main goal coming into this,” said Marquis Addison, who led the Lions with 23 points. “We didn’t want anybody let us in this tournament. We wanted to go out and get it ourselves.”
“This game was so important to us because we wanted to make sure we earned our spot in the playoffs,” Lions coach Robert Corn said. “From a pride standpoint, we knew we had to come out and play well, and I think it really affected us early on. We didn’t come out and play with that energy level that you really want. I think our guys instead of playing to win, they were playing not to lose for a while in the second half. The second half, I thought we turned it around and started getting better energy level and started making some plays happen.”
The Bronchos (12-12, 10-6) led 40-37 at halftime and 46-40 four minutes into the second half. But in a six-minute span, Wright popped in four treys, and the last one gave the Lions a 59-53 lead with 8:38 left.
“I felt good,” said Wright, who hit 4-of-5 from beyond the arc in the second half and 5-of-8 for the game while scoring 16 points. “Coach told me to sprint the lanes because they really weren’t getting back on defense. The guys were looking for me, and I had the confidence to knock down open shots.”
Cameron Cornelius hit a 3 just over a minute later — the Lions were 6-of-12 from 3 and only 4-of-19 inside the arc in the second half — and a Matt Everson trey after a Blaine Miller steal and a Greg Renfroe layup in transition gave the Lions a 70-61 lead with 5:25 left.
“That was a good spurt by us,” Corn said. “We got a couple of misses, and we got some things in transition.”
Renfroe’s basket proved to be the Lions’ last field goal. The Lions missed four straight free throws during the next two minutes, but the sank 14-of-16 in the final 3:20.
“We had the guys at the line that we wanted,” Corn said. “Marquis has been an 80 percent free throw shooter his whole career. R.J. (Leverette) got his last three to go down. Matt (Everson) made his two, Stephen (Atkinson) made his two. We were able to get the ball in the hands of people we want in late-game situations.”
Addison converted 14-of-17 charities while scoring 23 points, and he grabbed a career-high 13 rebounds. Jordan Talbert had 12 rebounds before fouling out as the Lions owned a 49-38 rebounding advantage.
Blaine Miller scored the Lions’ first five points and finished with 13 points and seven rebounds.
“Blaine was the guy who kept us around through the first media timeout,” Corn said. “He was pretty active around the basket and did a nice job for us.”
In what was not really a physical game, a total of 58 fouls were called, and both teams made more free throws than field goals. The Lions had 21 field goals and hit 33-of-50 charities while the Bronchos had 22 field goals and were 25-of-33 at the line.
“There were 24 first-half fouls, which is pretty crazy,” Addison said. “I’m just glad our guys knocked free throws down tonight when we needed them at least and we came out with the ‘W.’
“It was an ugly game. Good teams find a way to pull those out, and we had guys step up and play big roles today. Austin played huge. Jordan is such a great player for us.
“I really want to give praise to Coach (Ronnie) Ressel. He has us by himself for two practices (while the other coaches were recruiting), and he really got our mindset focused on this game.”
Jamell Cormier led the Bronchos with 19 points, followed by Josh Gibbs with 12, Christian Huffman with 11 and Spencer Smith with 10.
The Lions play Wednesday night at Pittsburg State.