Lions cruise to victory over Blue Tigers

Feb. 8—It was all Missouri Southern from the first basket to the final buzzer as the women's basketball team controlled Lincoln University on the way to an 76-57 victory Thursday night inside the Leggett & Platt Athletic Center on the campus of MSSU.

The 24th-ranked Lions (18-4, 14-2 MIAA) were a little slow out of the gate but exploded for 24 points in the second quarter and led by 20 or more for most of the second half.

"Our defense got us going there in the second quarter. Our defense in the first was good, but we missed some shots early," MSSU head coach Ronnie Ressel said. "Second quarter, we executed a little better and did a better job of moving the basketball."

It was yet another shared effort among the MSSU squad as nine players scored in the first half and 10 in the game. It was led by sharpshooter Kaitlin Hunnicutt who hit five 3-pointers and finished with 20 points. Hunnicutt was celebrating her birthday in this game as well.

Ryan Franklin and Brandi Hudson joined her in double figures with 10 points apiece.

The team defense was a key in the second quarter as it forced Lincoln into a chunk of turnovers in the period. The Blue Tigers coughed it up 15 times total in first half.

"Big part was the second quarter. Third quarter we didn't guard like we had been," Ressel said. "That's one of those where we have to stay locked in. It doesn't matter who you're playing in this league, you have to stay locked in defensively."

Lincoln (6-15, 2-13 MIAA) did use a run late in the fourth quarter to close the gap to 16 points, but Southern went on to score the next 5 points to get the lead back over 20 at 76-55.

That was in large part to the offense not turning the ball over as much — just seven times in the second half. The Blue Tigers also forced the Lions into 10 second-half turnovers and held them to just 9 points in the fourth quarter.

MSSU's lead was just 14-9 after the first quarter. But Hunnicutt got the offense going with a 3-pointer to start the second. It went on to score the first 11 points of the quarter and multiple players got involved. Mira Khan scored a layup to make it 19-9, then Hannah Burg made a layup, then it was Reese Webb around the basket and finally Brandi Hudson to make it 25-9.

Lincoln finally scored when Miriam Bazylewicz got an offensive rebound and putback. Ressel took a timeout at that point with 4:50 left in the half.

For the rest of the quarter, Hudson added 2 more points, Burg 3 on an old-fashioned 3-point play with a basket and a free throw, Kennady Roach made a layup, Ryan Franklin scored 4 down the stretch and Morgan Meyers made a triple to get to the halftime advantage of 39-18.

MSSU shot 48% from the field and 43.8% from beyond the arc (7 for 16) and 85% on free throws (17 for 20).

Lincoln was held below 40% overall, 30% from deep and made just 10 of 16 free shots. The Blue Tigers were led in scoring by the athletic guard play of Steph Torres. Torres featured quickness to the basket and an ability to shoot on her way to 15 points. AJ Bradley added 10.

The Lions have now won 15 straight and are in the midst of their first week in the Women's Basketball Coaches Association's top 25 rankings. The WBCA put MSSU at 24th on Tuesday this week after winning its 13th and 14th straight games last week at Newman University and Central Oklahoma.

"It's tough. ... When you can win that many in a row in this league, you have a chance to be pretty good. Because this league is so good," Ressel said. "Our league, as a conference, is ranked No. 1 in the country as far as our strength of schedule. So to do that in this league speaks volumes about our kids."

Central Missouri will be in Joplin on Saturday to meet the streaking Lions. The Jennies will enter play with a 15-6 record (9-6 MIAA) coming off an 82-80 loss at Pittsburg State on Wednesday.

"We have six games left and every one of them is against a very good team in the top half of the league," Ressel said. "If we want to accomplish the goals we set out early in the year we have to stay focused every day in practice and every game."