Jumah’Ri Turner scored 27 and big men took center stage as Emporia State broke a three-game losing skid with a gritty 82-71 win over Missouri Western Saturday night.
Emporia State head coach Craig Doty said the Hornet’s narrow loss to No. 3 Northwest Missouri State was a springboard for Saturday’s success.
“That type of gutsy effort is what was needed tonight, that toughness, that togetherness and execution on both ends of the floor,” Doty said. “We saw a carryover from that game [against Northwest Missouri State]. We didn’t see our guys get down and get disappointed, but we saw them respond in a positive way, and that’s not always easy to do when you’ve laid it all out there versus one of the best teams in the county and you come up short.”
The tone was set for how physically intense the game would be when three fouls were called in the first 76 seconds. The teams swapped leads back and forth 10 times throughout the first half, with neither team leading by more than five until Turner scored with 1:40 left before halftime to give the Hornets a 41-35 lead.
The Hornets would maintain that margin and headed into the locker room on top 43-37.
Emporia State shot the ball efficiently in the first half, going 55.2% (16 of 29) overall and 57.1% (4 of 7) from long-range.
Coming out of the intermission, the Hornets used a 15-2 run in the first five minutes to stretch their lead out to 58-39, their largest of the game. That scoring burst was fueled primarily by Emporia State’s big men, Mason Thiessen and Gage McGuire, whose teammates found them making perfect cuts at just the right times for easy scores, including a couple of dunks by McGuire that drew the Hornet bench to its feet.
“My teammates just find me and it’s easy buckets,” McGuire said succinctly.
Turner said it was vital for the team to come out strong after halftime.
“A lot of times we start off halves slow, I don’t know what it is,” Turner said. “But we knew what was on the line tonight, so we needed that boost. … We wanted to be up big in that first five minutes and make them call a timeout so the momentum’s going our way.”
After Emporia State took a 19-point lead, Missouri Western shifted into a full-court press defense. Doty acknowledged that his team struggled against the press as evidenced by 19 turnovers in the game, but that their performance wasn’t disastrous
“We knew it was coming and we put the ball in the hands of our upperclassmen who needed to break the press,” he said. “As a coaching step, there’s so much you can do with spacing and you take personal responsibility for every turnover. We felt as prepared as we could feel as a staff. The hay was in the barn for us and it was time for our players to perform. They did enough in breaking the press that it did not ultimately compromise the game.”
Turner found the bottom of the net with 11:16 left in the contest to put Emporia State on top 62-45. But it would take the Hornets nearly four minutes to score again and the Griffons made them pay by cutting the lead to 62-55. Turner’s basket with 7:28 left pushed the Emporia State advantage back to nine and served to jumpstart the Hornet offense to hold on for the win.
Emporia State finished the game shooting 56.6% (30 of 53) from the field and 50% (6 of 12) from beyond the arc. The Hornets also out-rebounded Missouri Western 37-29 and held the Griffons to just 40.3% (25 of 62) shooting for the night.
Including Turner’s 27, the Hornets had four players with double digits in the scoring column. McGuire finished with 20, Thiessen had 15 and Austin Downing tallied 12.
After the game, Doty drew particular attention to McGuire, who had struggled in recent games, including missing his last 11 shots prior to Saturday.
“I decided to be really goofy with Gage in shootaround and figure out what it’s going to take to get him to make shots,” Doty said. “So we start talking, ‘What’s your high school mascot? … It’s the Cardinals, so every time you shoot I just want you to think “Cardinals” because in high school you made all the shots. You’re not making them right now.’”
Doty said that McGuire laughed and then made four 3-pointers in a row during shootaround after that exchange. Doty continued to yell “Cardinals” at him throughout warm-ups.
“So tonight he just thought about wearing his red shoes in high school and thought about being the Cardinals,” Doty said. “At the end of the day, … he needed to know I wasn’t disappointed in him [after] we pulled him out of the starting lineup.”
Doty also commended Thiessen, who blocked four shots and, even though he’s a 6-10 center, frequently found himself guarding Missouri Western’s Tyrell Carroll, whom Doty described as “one of the fastest point guards in the league.”
“[Thiessen]’s a really good basketball player,” Doty said. “He’s been battling chronic injuries. … He’s pretty dynamic and we need to get him back to the confident freshman that he was, but I think we’ll see that consistency once he can get healed up and have an offseason.”
“It feels really good, personally,” Thiessen said of his performance. “But these guys behind me, it’s just bigger than that, it’s always bigger than just being a personal thing. It’s been kind of an up-and-down year, so it felt really good to have these guys keep believing in me.”
The Hornets improved to 9-10 on the season with the win and will play at home against Northeastern State on Wednesday and at Pittsburg State on Thursday before wrapping up the regular season on Saturday at Washburn.
“I would definitely say this is a momentum booster,” Turner said. “We’ve got to keep going, not be complacent and keep going.”