JOPLIN, Mo. — Saturday was the best overall performance Craig Doty has seen out of his team, possibly all season.
Unfortunately, even that wasn’t enough to snap a now four-game skid for the Emporia State men.
ESU led 45-35 early in the second half and had a lead with just 1:15 to play, but the Hornets still finished just short in an 80-77 loss at Missouri Southern.
“I like the way we did everything better than the last couple of weeks,” Doty said. “We competed for the entire game, we had two guys who ... looked like boxers. They had to come in and ... glue up cuts on their face. They were diving on the floor for loose balls, we hit shots from the perimeter, I thought we attacked at opportune times. We did so many things right ... and we made 17 threes. That is something we are very, very happy about. There was only one glaring difference in this box score.”
That blatant discrepancy came at the free-throw line, where the stripe was quite charitable to the host Lions, who had more than twice as many makes (19) as Emporia State had opportunities (7).
“We made 17 threes, they only made 11,” Doty said. “We (make) 27 total shots, they only made 25 shots, the rebounding was comparable, the turnovers were comparable and then ... there was a huge margin of difference at the free throw line, which was the difference in the game.
“Both teams were casting all night long.”
By casting, the reference was to long range shooting, where both teams had a strong level of comfort throughout. Both teams were an identical 7-for-17 from beyond the arc in the first half. The Hornets quickly eradicated a 1-point halftime deficit in the third with an 11-0 run, including three straight treys.
Hassan Thomas, Duncan Fort and Sawyer Glick all contributed to the barrage that stunned the preseason selection for MIAA Champions.
“Tonight we went up against a team preseason picked to win (the MIAA), that was undefeated at home and we had the lead for the game for 22:13,” Doty said. “They had the lead only for 14:36. Our biggest margin was by 10 and their biggest margin was only by six.”
After the early streak, the Hornets still possessed the late heading into the final four minutes. A layup by the Lions’ Braelon Walker with 3:15 flipped the scoreboard back in the home team’s favor, 71-70.
Seconds later, on the other end, Julius Jackson made the lead change hands with a score, part of a season-best 22-point effort.
“Julius Jackson, when he’s scoring the basketball, is very valuable on the offensive end for us,” Doty said.
The two teams switched leads once more heading into the final minute.
Then things just got strange.
The Lions held the lead, 75-74, when Elyjah Clark missed a 3-pointer, but confusion on the rebounding effort led to a video review. That set up the Lions with the ball and two seconds remaining on the shot clock and just 15 left in the contest.
Walker made a rushed trey off the inbound play to put MSSU up by four, but the Hornets made quick work of that lead as Sawyer Glick responded in kind on the other end with six seconds to go.
ESU fouled MSSU’s Kinzer Lambert with 3.7 seconds on the clock, but another review slashed that time in half. Lambert made both shots from the stripe and a three-quarter court lob found Hassan Thomas, who came up just short on a spin-and-shoot attempt for the tie at the buzzer.
“If we play like this at home, it’s a double-digit win easily,” Doty said. “It’s a consistency thing for us. It was great to see our guys play their tails off for 40 minutes tonight. I’m incredibly proud of them. We need more efforts like this because I think that’s going to be (an exciting) team for many people to watch.”
ESU will next host Lindenwood at 7:30 p.m. Thursday.
ESU 34 43 — 77
MSSU 35 45 — 80
Emporia State (7-11, 2-7): Hluchoweckyj 5-9 0-0 12, Washington 3-11 2-2 10, S. Glick 3-12 0-0 9, McGee 1-2 0-0 2, K. Glick 0-2 0-0 0, Jackson 7-9 3-4 22, Rowan 4-7 1-1 10, Thomas 3-7 0-0 9, Fort 1-1 0-0 3, McCray 0-0 0-0 0.
Missouri Southern (16-4, 7-3): Walker 7-13 7-7 25, Lambert 3-8 7-10 15, Clark 5-15 0-1 12, Martin 3-8 3-4 11, Tharp 3-7 0-0 7, Memic 4-5 2-2 10, Jennings 0-2 0-0 0.
Three-pointers: ESU (17-35): Hluchoweckyj 2-4, Washington 2-7, S. Glick 3-12, Jackson 5-6, Rowan 1-2, Thomas 3-3, Fort 1-1; MSSU (11-30): Walker 4-8, Lambert 2-5, Clark 2-11, Martin 2-3, Tharp 1-2, Jennings 0-1.
Rebounds: ESU 34 (Thomas 8), MSSU 37 (Martin 14); Assists: ESU 15 (2 with 5), MSSU 17 (Tharp 9).
Fouled out: ESU-Washington, MSSU- None.