Lions in 7th place as season winds down

Southern guard India Wood passes around an Emporia State University defender. The women defeated Emporia State 72-49 and the men fell 73-72 in the Feb. 7 games.

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Southern guard India Wood passes around an Emporia State University defender. The women defeated Emporia State 72-49 and the men fell 73-72 in the Feb. 7 games.

Hobie Brown

The Missouri Southern Lions finish their regular season road tour tomorrow as they enter Bearcat Arena to face Northwest Missouri State.

The first contest between the two saw Northwest hand Southern its first loss of the seven-game losing streak from which the Lions recently recovered.

“The first game against Northwest just got away from us,” head coach Maryann Mitts said. “It was a game where we had every opportunity to win the game, but we just didn’t play a solid 40 minutes of basketball.”

Northwest returns three starters from a team which went 15-13 last year, including an early exit from the postseason tournament. Post player Mandi Schumacher averaged 12.5 points per game, and guards Katie O’Grady and Kelli Nelson averaged 7.8 ppg and 10.8 ppg respectively. O’Grady also averages 84.6 percent from the free throw line.

“It’s really important that we go to Northwest and we handle their double teams in the post,” Mitts said. “Our defense is much improved since we played them and we need to control the speed of the game.”

The Lions defeated Southwest Baptist 65-48 at home Saturday night. Danielle DeVader returned from a one-game absence to lead the Lions with 15 points.

“The biggest difference was we played at a higher energy level than last time,” Mitts said. “That in itself bled over into us playing a great defensive basketball game. And that’s where it’s always started with us. When we play great defense, we’ve always given ourselves an opportunity to win basketball games. Our offense kind of bled out of that defensive intensity. I also saw glimpses of us executing offensively in a way we had not done yet to this point.”

Dana Mae Robbs reaggrivated her injured hand and is questionable for the remainder of the season.

“Just in the course of playing and practicing, one of the screws came loose and separated the bone in her hand again,” Mitts said. “There was a rare chance it could happen. She’ll be in a hard cast for the next three weeks. Hopefully we’ll have her back for senior night on the 24th. If not, hopefully we’ll have her back in Kansas City for the MIAA Postseason tournament.

“I think it’s really important that our team gives Dana another opportunity to play college basketball. I think it’s the main focus of the team right now.”

Robbs’ absence provided Mitts and the rest of the MIAA with an early look at next year’s squad.

“You have a big concern that with this group,” she said. “We’ve had a seven-game losing streak. And one of the things we don’t want to get into a habit of over the years is getting into those type of losing streaks. I had the opportunity to see these girls, all returners for next year, are capable of stepping up on their own, and producing for this basketball program. And I thought it was a good indication there is a good group of talent in this group. I also started to see the intangibles, the work ethic, and the coachability that are essential for this program for the long run.”

Looking at the two games with SBU this season, Mitts was very positive about the team’s progression.

“We have mentally and emotionally matured as a basketball team,” she said. “I think our focus is a lot better than it was in Bolivar. Our team is on the same page. The defense was so much better because our positioning was better and our effort was better. We completely took away their 3-point shot, and our post defense was much improved. We showed more concern and passion for the game.”

Unfortunately those improvements were not quite enough on Wednesday as the Lions fell at Central Missouri 67-48.

Junior guard Ela Zawadka led the Lions with a career high 15 points in the loss. Sophomore guard India Wood and junior forward Tynesha Pierce each added 10 points.

“I expect us to finish strong,” Mitts said. “As disappointing as I have felt the season has been, obviously our talent level is in the upper echelon of the MIAA and for some reason we haven’t played up to that potential. I expect us to peak. This basketball team has far from peaked. In late February and early March, this is when you want to peak and play your best basketball.

“We still have a chance to finish fifth in this league and set ourselves up to play a competitive first-round game in Kansas City. I’m as excited to go to Kansas City with this group of players as I’ve ever been because we have the talent to go up there and make some noise.”