One of the biggest areas of the game Ronnie Ressel has seen his team improve the most has been on the defensive side of the ball in the early part of the season.

And on a day when the Missouri Southern women’s basketball team shot just 30% from the field in the second half, defense came in handy.

The Lions’ defense forced 20 turnovers and held off a late comeback from Newman to earn a 59-51 victory in MIAA action on Saturday afternoon at Leggett & Platt Athletic Center.

The triumph marked the fourth straight for MSSU, which improved to 4-2 and a perfect 2-0 in MIAA play.

“Defense is going to win you some ball games,” Ressel said after the game. “You are going to have some off-nights shooting, which we did. Our kids buckled down in the second half and did enough on the offensive end, but it’s a conference win and a win at home. Come February, the score won’t make a difference.

“Newman played hard. They fought hard. They did a good job. Give them some credit. They disrupted us offensively. They did some positive things, which made us struggle.”

MSSU came out hot and led 35-18 after Anna Hall capped a 14-4 run thanks to a lay-in with 3:13 to play in the second quarter. The Jets closed out the first half on a 9-2 burst as Carissa Beck knocked down a triple at the buzzer to cut the margin to 37-29 at the break.

NU kept chipping away in the second half as Laura Bello hit a freebie to punctuate a 15-2 run and cut the score 39-37 with 1:49 to play in the third quarter. The Lions closed out the frame on a 5-2 spurt to build a 44-39 lead following a layup from Cameron Call.

The Jets did not get any closer the rest of the way. Madi Stokes and Call combined for 11 points of the team’s 15 fourth-quarter points to help MSSU pull away down the stretch.

“They were really valuable,” MSSU guard-forward Amaya Johns said. “Madi just came back from her injury. She did a really good job. Cam hit her 3s and she was confident. We trust them to make those baskets.

“We had a lot of energy in the fourth quarter. We went down a little bit in the third, but we kept fighting. We knew we had to get a dub and get two in a row this weekend. We are really pleased with the start, but we can’t get complacent. We have to keep working.”

Lacy Stokes paced the Lions with 11 points to go with five rebounds and five assists. Amaya Johns and Call each added 10 points, while Layne Skiles chipped in eight.

In just 13 minutes of action, Stokes finished with seven points and led the team on the glass with six rebounds. The 6-foot-3 center also collected a block.

“It was nice to see Madi get down there and get low, do some positive things today,” Ressel said. “‘Gotta always like that when your big kid gets some confidence. Cam came in and hit two big 3s for us. It helped our defense out as well because we got a little more aggressive defensively and extended that lead out a little bit. That was huge when all was said and done.”

Leading the Jets (2-6, 0-2 MIAA) was Amoni White with a game-high 15 points. Tiffany Dortland also had 10 points for NU.

MSSU women resume action at Rogers State at 1:30 p.m. next Saturday. The Lions return home to face McKendree at 5:30 p.m. on Dec. 13.

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