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Despite losing record, MSSU remains positive

Feb. 16—The Missouri Southern men's basketball team is 11-12 overall and has been below .500 since it fell to 2-3 on Nov. 22 in a 76-70 loss at Drury.

That was the second loss of a six-game skid for the Lions. Head coach Sam McMahon saw a reoccurring theme every day throughout those struggles.

"Well, they've kept a great attitude and great energy every single day," McMahon said. "They've not gotten too high or too low. That's a testament to their character. They've really stayed the course at getting better each and every day. ... The energy in practice has been really good, and that's not easy to do when you start 2-7."

That positivity has produced positive results. MSSU has now won nine of its last 14 games and four of its last five.

"It's important, really, honestly, in everything in life," McMahon said of the positivity. "You're going to have times when you struggle, but that's good. That's a good thing. It's important you keep a great attitude because that's how you get better.

"Does it suck? Yeah, absolutely. You have to learn from those struggles and improve, and that's what they've taken pride in, and I'm proud of them for doing that."

MSSU's junior college transfer from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College talked about that time.

"We were trash," junior forward Darius Dawson said. "I'm happy where we are now. Learning is the key for us. For me personally, I feel like I've continued to learn and stay the course."

In the first seven losses, three of them were by differences of 19, 18 and 18; those opponents scored 99, 96 and 75.

Only one opponent has scored more than 70 points in the last five games. That was a Lincoln team that struggled all evening inside the Leggett & Platt Athletic Center at MSSU but tried to mount a comeback late and started finally hitting shots in the final few minutes.

While that recent number of below 70 has worked well, the Lions like to focus more on opponent shooting percentage.

"We want to hold them to low 40s percentage. We don't focus on a number (of points) because of the different pace of games," McMahon said.

That defense has been a big change since the start of the season for MSSU.

"I think we found ourselves a little bit," MSSU junior Avery Taggart said. "Defensively we've really been locking in on people."

"It all starts on the defensive end getting stops and then finishing each possession with a rebound," McMahon said.

Coach McMahon went in depth on things he is focused on with his team if they want to continue this level of play. Those are rebounding, transition defense, guarding the basketball and taking care of the basketball. The fifth factor is an "elite" level of energy and effort. With those five things, McMahon said, MSSU will be in every game.

"If we do those five things ... the sky is the limit. You can do it for one game, but can you do it for the last five games?" McMahon asked.

This is an important stretch for Missouri Southern as the season winds down. Saturday will begin five games to conclude the regular season as Pittsburg State (15-8, 11-6 MIAA) comes into Joplin for a rivalry game.

"Every game means so much, especially when you're going against your rival and especially when you're at home," McMahon said.

"They're huge. We have to be hungry. We have to play desperate," MSSU senior guard Vinson Sigmon Jr. said. "We have to bring something to the table that the other team won't expect, punch them in the mouth first and keep the lead."

TURNING A CORNER

When McMahon looks at his team's improvement, he recalls a game in November and what he could see in them then versus now.

"More connected, I would say," McMahon said. "After the Rockhurst game, which was probably our worst game ever, we were disconnected for whatever reason. I couldn't figure it out at that time. But we've figured it out."

What they figured out was that it takes everyone and moving together on both sides of the ball as one unit.

"Trying to build chemistry as we go, learning how to win," Taggart said. "Sometimes with a new team, that can be tough at first. I feel like we're starting to get those habits."

"There were times it was more negative than positive and it didn't seem like we would even have a winning season," Dawson said. "Now we're doing something. We can make it even more special."

Sigmon went in depth on the team's focus to improve individually — not for yourself but for the betterment of the team as one.

"Something that we preach day in and day out is being individually better each day to make us better as a whole," he said. "We can make some noise here coming up."

Sigmon said staying mentally tough and physically fresh are keys for a college athlete throughout the grind of a season as a student-athlete dealing with class, athletics and being far from family.

Taggart expanded on that by saying athletes carry their work on the court or field into their "outside lives" as well.

"At the end of the day, this is a game, but at the same time, this is our life," he said. "This is what pays for our school, so we take this very serious."

Sigmon noted that knowing roles helps every team to improve and that's part of MSSU's recent success.

SENIOR YEAR

The Lions could complete a full turnaround by getting back above .500 in these last five regular season games and at least one postseason game to come.

Along with Sigmon, there are four other players in their final season and sending them out with a strong finish is important. Those players are Martin Macenis, Parker Long, Winston Dessesow and grad transfer Cam Williams.

"We want to send all those guys out the right way and the only way to do that is give our best effort and win some games," McMahon said.

Sigmon commented on his final run in college basketball.

"I think of it as an opportunity," he said. "I've felt blessed all five of my years in college. I've been fortunate to be put in these positions. I'm trying to give it my all. Just empty the tank. Let all the fuel run out."

McMahon added this about the 5-foot-10 guard out of Detroit: "He's a leader on and off the court."