EMPORIA, Kan. – In a game that saw both teams struggle shooting, Missouri Southern made more defensive stops and free throws to earn a 71-58 victory over Emporia State in MIAA men’s basketball action on Ron Slaymaker Court inside White Auditorium.

The Lions (18-4, 11-2 MIAA) and Hornets (10-12, 4-9) had similar shooting numbers from the field. The Lions made 23-of-63 field goals and 8-of-30 3-pointers while the Hornets went 22-of-60 and 4-of-18.

But at the foul line, Missouri Southern converted 17-of-20 free throws while Emporia State was 10-of-22, including five straight misses – two were front ends of 1-and-1s – in the second half with the game still on the line.

“It was an ugly game,” Lions guard Kinzer Lambert said. “Neither team shot well. Free throws, that’s two games in a row free throws have helped us out a lot. We have to continue that. Those are ugly games. You have to win those, too.”

Lambert, 6-foot-4 senior, poured in a season-high 25 points. Lambert, who had 15 points in the first half, was 8-of-21 from the floor, 3-of-10 from the 3-point arc – three attempts circled the rim before going out – and 6-of-7 at the foul line. He also had six rebounds, two assists and a steal in 39 minutes.

“I was just taking what they gave me,” Lambert said. “Against Washburn I thought I was being aggressive every time I got the ball, and I wanted to continue that. I’m not going to shoot 21 times every game, but if I have to for us to win, I will.”

“I thought he took some tough shots at the beginning,” MSSU coach Jeff Boschee said. “Then he started to feel it. He was under control penetrating in the lane. We isolated him pretty much toward the end and told him to find a mismatch somewhere and try to get him going downhill. With Cam (Martin) and Elyjah (Clark) in foul trouble, we had to go with something we know and trust, and he did some big things.”

Martin totaled 17 points, seven rebounds and a block in 27 minutes for the Lions, who clinched a spot in next month’s MIAA Postseason Tournament in Kansas City. Braelon Walker contributed 11 points, seven rebounds and two steals. Clark made only one basket – a 3-pointer when he was fouled and completed the four-point play – but led the team with nine rebounds and five assists.

Zac Owens led the Hornets with 18 points. The Hornets played without season scoring leader Jumah’Ri Turner, who was absent because of a family death.

The Hornets scored five points in the final 10 seconds in the first half to pull even 33-33 at the intermission. There were four lead changes and four ties in the first seven minutes of the second half before the Lions scored seven quick points on drives by Parker Jennings and Lambert and Walker’s 3-pointer from the right corner to take a 52-46 lead with 11 minutes left.

The Lions never relinquished the lead, and they limited the Hornets to two field goals in the last 10 minutes.

Lambert drove down the lane for a three-point play, Winston Dessesow hit an 18-footer, and Martin converted a three-point play to push the lead to 67-56 with two minutes left.

“We didn’t shoot the ball well. We just made some big-time shots,” Boschee said. “Kinzer made some big shots. We had some great offensive rebounds. Ted (Brown) came in and gave us great possessions defensively and got a couple of offensive rebounds (with Martin sitting with four fouls). Braelon’s rebound and putback off the missed free throw was big. And Kinzer just stepping up and making plays.”

The Lions again had big contributions off the bench as Dessesow hit 3-of-4 shots while scoring nine points in 14 minutes, and Christian Bundy and Brown combined for 10 rebounds — six off the offensive glass.

Next for the Lions is the much-anticipated game against No. 1 Northwest Missouri on Thursday night at the Leggett & Platt Athletic Center. The Bearcats (22-1, 12-1) beat Lincoln 96-49 on Saturday.

The second-place Lions did widen their lead over third-place Rogers State when the Hillcats lost at home to Northeastern State 89-73.

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