Jan. 15—It was a back-and-forth men's basketball game Saturday as Missouri Southern's offense went toe-to-toe with Nebraska-Kearney's.
Damiri Lindo was averaging just under 14 points per game for the Lopers coming into the contest and exploded for almost twice that with 27, but the Lions were able to overcome Lindo's big game and earn an 88-78 win.
Both teams shot above 50% for the entire game. The Lopers (5-10, 2-8 MIAA) made 31 of 60 attempts (51.7%) and the Lions (6-9, 4-5 MIAA) were 34 of 57 (59.6%).
"I thought offensively we were really sharp," MSSU head coach Sam McMahon said. "We shot 60% from the field, 43% from three and 92% from the free throw line."
There was a ton of efficiency in this game from both sides. There were only 22 total turnovers and just four at halftime. The Lions totaled 12 turnovers after having just one in the first half.
Second-half shooting numbers made up for those 11 turnovers in the final 20 minutes. MSSU was 16 for 26 overall and 4 for 9 from deep, and made 8 of 9 charities.
That's what the Lions needed as they led 44-40 entering the second half.
The offense continued its success and the defense was enough better to expand on the lead.
UNK was 15 for 31 in the second half, and about half of those shots came from outside the 3-point line (7 for 14).
"Defensively, we've got a long ways to go. We weren't very good in the first half and in the second half," McMahon said. "We have to guard the ball better and be in gaps more. We have a lot to work on.
"I'm proud of our guys. No win is easy in the MIAA. No one is easy in college basketball, so we'll take it."
Six of the Lopers' seven 3-pointers in the second half came after the Lions grabbed a 12-point lead at 65-53. That was the largest lead at that point of the game with 12:22 left to play. UNK took a timeout after Tyrique Jackson's putback went through the basket.
Jackson played 17 key minutes off the bench for the Lions, scoring 8 points and 6 of them in the second half.
Speaking of the bench, MSSU outscored UNK's reserves 35 to 6. Martin Macenis led the bench play with 21 points and 15 of them coming after the intermission. McMahon says Macenis has earned the nickname "the Magician" for the way he operates with the ball in his hand.
Macenis will use fakes, dribble moves and spins until he gets just enough space to elevate, step through or go under a defender for a basket.
"His pace is different. It's very unique. It doesn't look like he's moving very fast, but next thing you know, he's by you and at the rim and he can finish," McMahon said.
The first half of this game was a constant back-and-forth battle as both offenses traded blows for a good portion of the opening 20 minutes.
Vinson Sigmon Jr. started the scoring with a layup to put the Lions ahead 2-0. Kearney's Taden King got his team on top with a 3-pointer — his only one of the game.
That continued for seven lead changes by the time the score was 13-12 in favor of UNK. But the Lopers got a stop and responded with a high-arcing 3-pointer that was well defended by MSSU's Darius Dawson. But the shot from Tom Connelly probably came back down with snow on it as it swished through the net without touching the rim at all to make it 16-12.
The Lions eventually fought back to tie the game for the first time at 26 apiece with 5:38 left in the first half after Avery Taggart's first trey.
Macenis converted a layup at the 4:24-mark of the half to put MSSU back on top at 30-28. It didn't relinquish that lead for the rest of the half.
Early in the second half, UNK got a lead with a 3-point basket from Sean Evans. But MSSU responded quick when Sigmon floated a shot over the defense from the middle of the lane to make it 46-45 in favor of the Lions again. And they led for the last 18:21 of the game.
"Our 2-3 zone was really good for us. We got some stops, and once we threw them out of rhythm, our offense was in rhythm the whole game. We have to rebound better out of it, but I was proud of that," McMahon said.
Sigmon finished the game with 18 points on 8 of 12 shooting and 2 of 5 from deep. Dawson totaled 14 points and eight rebounds. Taggart finished with 10 and made 3 of 6 shots and 2 of 4 from outside.
Joining UNK's Lindo in double figures was Sean Murphy and D'Aundre Samuels with 14 apiece. Lindo shot 10 for 14 and 6 for 8 on triples.
Southern dominated points in the paint 44-28 and won the rebounding battle 30-22.
Up next, the Lions will face Washburn University at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in Topeka, Kansas. The Ichabods are 10-5 and 6-3 in MIAA play. They've yet to lose a game at home (7-0).
"We have to establish our defense. We were solid for a lot of games in a row, but we've kind of slipped here for whatever reason," McMahon said.
The team faces Emporia State University at 3:30 p.m. Saturday in Emporia, Kansas.