Freeman Sports/Chris Tucker Classic returns to Leggett & Platt tomorrow

Redshirt freshman Patrick Hester sets the offense in Southerns Nov. 15 game against Newman. Hester scored 6 points.

Redshirt freshman Patrick Hester sets the offense in Southern’s Nov. 15 game against Newman. Hester scored 6 points.

Cody Dyer

It’s two in a row for Missouri Southern to start the 2008 campaign.

The Lions head into the Freeman Sports/Chris Tucker Memorial Classic with a 2-0 mark after downing Newman to begin the season before blasting Central Bible on Tuesday.

For Southern Head Coach Robert Corn, this weekend’s event isn’t just another tournament on the schedule.

Sure, Corn wants to see his Lions come out on top against Mid-American Christian today and Lincoln on Saturday, but there’s more to this tournament than wins and losses.

The bottom line is, it’s a special weekend for Corn.

“No doubt,” Corn said. “Several members of the Tucker family will be here. It’s very special to have them back.”

Chris Tucker, former All-American center for Southern who was killed in an automobile accident in Joplin in July 1994, played under Corn from 1990-94. Corn described Tucker as a team-first player.

“Obviously, he meant a lot to this University and the community,” Corn said. “It’s hard to believe it’s been that long, and the fact people still remember what type of young man Chris Tucker was after this long after the accident tells you what type of special young man he was here.”

The Lions are home at 7 p.m. today against Mid-American Christian. Today’s tournament session begins at 5 p.m. with Pittsburg State facing Lincoln. The Lions face Lincoln at 7 p.m. Saturday.

Through two games, the Lions have lived and died by playing stellar defense, which should come as no surprise.

“Defense dictates everything we do,” Corn said.

Central Bible went on a 12-7 run in the first half of Tuesday’s tilt to cut the Lions’ 10-point lead in half in large part because the Lions weren’t able to get much out of their press.

“When we were able to turn them,” Corn said, “we were too far away to be able to get a trap. It started the last five minutes of the first half. We said we have to start trapping earlier and not wait until the guy turns.”

It didn’t take long for the Lions to respond.

“Once we started (trapping earlier), you could see the energy level pick up,” Corn said. “We were able to get some run-outs and some easy baskets.”

With a mixture of veterans and underclassmen on this year’s squad, there will be times the Lions play lackadaisical basketball against weaker opponents.

It will be important for the seasoned players to pull the Lions out of any funk they may encounter during a game.

“Last year we had players who carried us,” senior guard Tony Webb said. “They instilled in us how to play hard. All we want to do as seniors is come to practice everyday with the mind-set of letting (the underclassmen) know how it’s going to be.”

Several players have picked up minutes to help contribute to the Lions’ early success.

“It’s important,” Corn said. “You get to look at some guys and see where they fit in. There will be a time, during the course of the season, where injury and illness will allow others to play important minutes.”

Notes: Kyle Schrage, a sophomore forward, will continue to be out due to an ankle injury. Corn said Schrage might be able to workout today and Saturday.

“We’ll try to get him in next week where he could see some time,” Corn said.