By Jim Henry
MARYVILLE, Mo. — Hunter Henry’s two free throws with 2.5 seconds remaining lifted Northwest Missouri State past Missouri Southern 72-70 Wednesday night at Bearcat Arena.
The Lions, who never led in the final 27 minutes, trailed 38-34 at halftime and 42-34 one minute into the second half, but the Lions tied the game four times during the next 11 minutes, the last time when Skyler Bowlin’s layup off a pass from Jason Adams made it 59-59 with 7:50 left.
The score didn’t change for three minutes until the Bearcats’ Mike Larsen hit a 3-pointer from the left wing. The Bearcats led by four points twice, the last time at 70-66 after Edriss Floyd’s long 3-pointer from the right wing to beat the shot clock found the basket with 50 seconds left.
The Lions cut the deficit to 70-68 on Mariun Price’s basket and called a timeout with 36.5 seconds left. The Lions regained possession on Bowlin’s steal along the sideline. Price took the ball toward the basket but missed, but Adams’ tipin made it 70-70 with 23 seconds to play.
The Bearcats didn’t call a timeout, and point guard Mike Larsen had the ball near the top of the circle as the clock dipped below 10 seconds.
Henry, off a backdoor cut along the baseline, caught Larsen’s pass and was fouled on the shot. Henry, a 71 percent shooter on the season, made both free throws, and the Bearcats then called a timeout.
The Lions’ Matt Monroe threw the ball toward halfcourt, but Floyd picked off the pass, handing the Lions (15-5, 5-5 MIAA) a gut-wrenching loss and their third setback in a row.
“We were tied at 59-59, we missed the front end of a 1-and-1, and we didn’t get as good of looks as we would have liked,” Lions head coach Robert Corn said. “I felt like if we could have taken the lead at that point, maybe we could have gotten some momentum. That’s when we were doing some good things in our zone that were pretty effective.
“Late in the game, they hit two shots with the shot clock winding down, one after we knocked the ball in the air. Those five points were tough to take. Our guys could have layed down then, but they kept battling and had opportunities.”
Bowlin netted 20 points to lead four Lions in double figures. Bowlin, who had 13 second-half points, hit 6-of-10 shots from the floor and all six free throws, and he handed out five assists.
Vincent Ateba, 7-of-11 from the floor, scored 18 for the Lions, 11 in the first half. Price and Adams netted 14 and 10, respectively.
Hunter, 6-foot-9 senior and the league MVP two seasons ago, had 14 points in the first half and finished with 23, hitting 7-of-11 from the floor and 8-of-11 at the foul line. He was limited to five rebounds, about half of his league-leading 9.4 season average.
Larsen had 11 points for the Bearcats (8-9, 3-7), who shot 55 percent (24-of-44) compared to 45 percent (25-of-56) for the Lions.
“Obviously Northwest shot the ball extremely well,” Corn said. “We have to continue working on our defense and get some of our guys playing better defense. I thought our zone was effective. I thought our mixing defenses were pretty effective.
“It’s the best game we’ve played in the last three games. We started the game like we wanted, with a lot of energy and forcing the tempo. ... In games like this, you look over the course of the game and there are 10, 12, 15 things that if you had some something different, it might have been a different outcome.”
The Lions return home to play Truman State on Saturday afternoon to begin the second half of league play.
By Jim Henry