It was a matchup between the No. 3 and No. 4 seeds in the MIAA conference Saturday at MSSU when Missouri Southern took on Emporia State and it proved to be a contest between two of the best teams in the conference as the Hornets outlasted the Lions 83-79 in overtime .
After leading by as many as 15, MSSU (11-5, 7-3 MIAA) saw its lead disappear with about eight minutes left in the game. Atavian Butler scored his only two points of the game for the Hornets to tie the game at 58 apiece on a layup.
“Down the stretch we just couldn’t seem to get a stop,” junior guard Vinson Sigmon Jr. said. “We just didn’t have enough games to respond, which is a growing lesson.”
About 30 seconds later, ESU took its first lead on a 3-pointer by Kaden Evans to make it 61-58.
Over the next three and a half minutes, the Lions held the Hornets scoreless to complete a 6-0 run to take a 64-61 lead with less than four minutes remaining. Christian Bundy had four of those six points, two of which came on dunks.
But Emporia (14-3, 8-3 MIAA) wouldn’t go away. With the score 71-68, after a tough layup by Winston Dessesow, ESU’s Owen Long hit a stepback 3-pointer for overtime.
“We just lost focus,” MSSU head coach Sam McMahon said. “When we were missing, they were getting offensive rebounds. To their credit, (Emporia State) is well coached and a very good team. To beat a good team, you have to take care of the boards and you can’t turn (the ball over). We started turning it around late.”
Sigmon Jr. started overtime by cashing in on a mid-range jumper to give his team a 73-71 lead. But then the Hornets put together seven straight points to take a 78-73 lead. Every time the Lions tried to answer after that, Long would add two free throws to keep the lead and eventually get the win.
“With every failure, it just gives you an opportunity to grow,” Bundy said. “The trouble is not the end of the streak… We will focus more on defense. We have to be more mentally focused at the end of the stretch of games and figure out how to win these kinds of games.”
Sigmon Jr. he added that he believes he’ll learn how to better handle situations like this, since this is the team’s first back-and-forth game. He hopes they can do that by controlling the game better and doing what they want.
“I’m all for the lessons, not the losses, so we’ll definitely bounce back from this,” he said.
Both Bundy and Sigmon Jr. they believe some of those lessons will help them as they prepare to face other top teams in the MIAA.
“With teams at the top of the league, every possession has to count,” Bundy said. “Everything matters when it comes down to the wire like today.”
Coach McMahon added that the conference is “the best D2 conference in the country.
Long finished with 25 points and was the leading scorer. Alijah Comithier added 23 points and eight rebounds. Others in double figures were Peyton Rogers-Schmidt with 12 points and Evans with 11. Rogers-Schmidt had nine rebounds to lead the team.
“He’s a big player,” McMahon said of Long. “He’s hard to guard. He can make you swing. He can make you dance. He had 25 points, but on 19 shots, so Vinson (Sigmon Jr.) didn’t do a bad job on him.”
Southern also had four players score in double figures. Sigmon Jr. was the best with 21 points – 15 in the first half. Dessesow added 14, Taggart chipped in 13 and Sam Thompson rounded out with 10. Thompson also had eight rebounds. Bundy led the team in rebounds with 10 and added nine points.
Long drew a lot of attention from MSSU in the second half and in overtime. He was fouled five times and shot eight free throws. Six of the tries came in the bonus period.
The Lions committed 21 total fouls and saw errors from Dessesow and Taggart. Bundy committed four fouls himself.
The turnover battle also made a difference in the stat book. MSSU’s 17 turnovers led to 24 ESU points, while the Hornets’ seven turnovers were turned into just nine points by the Lions. ESU won second chance points 20-8.
MSSU led 13-4 and then 22-7 as they used the early momentum to take a 38-29 lead into halftime.
McMahon noted that the lack of ball movement could have changed things on offense. But neither the players nor McMahon were worried about the attack. They see that the bottom line comes down to defense.
Emporia had several plays that acted as a boost in the second half. Both came from Rogers-Schmidt. The 6-foot-7 sophomore forward shattered the glass while shooting. He timed it perfectly and slammed it home over an MSSU defender to bring his team within seven at 41-34.
Rogers-Schmidt did it again with less than three minutes remaining as he caught the ball above the rim and put it home to bring his team within 66-65 this time.
This loss ended the Lions’ streak of seven consecutive victories. The streak began Dec. 8 when they beat No. 6 Central Oklahoma on the road. Now they look to get back to their winning ways on Wednesday when they travel to Tahlequah, Oklahoma, to face the Northeastern State University RiverHawks.
“When you have setbacks, when you have setbacks, those setbacks can take you where you can’t go without them,” McMahon said. “We have to learn from it, grow from it and keep improving and use it as fuel.”