By BEN JOHNSON
Northeastern State skyrocketed up the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association standings on Wednesday night, and it didn’t even play a game.
The RiverHawks should have avoided playing on Thursday night, too.
Alex Bazzell scored 24 points, and Brett Thompson added 18 points as Lindenwood handed NSU a 78-66 loss at Jack Dobbins Field House.
“They were the tougher-minded team tonight,” NSU coach Larry Gipson said. “They executed better under pressure, they stayed in their stuff and they were much more disciplined than us. They deserved to win the basketball game.”
Lindenwood (15-5, 8-4 MIAA) continued its recent run of strong play in the MIAA, winning its sixth game in its last seven times out. The victory also kept the Lions even with Northwest Missouri State and Fort Hays State for second in the league.
“This might be one of the biggest wins we’ve had in my four years here,” Lindenwood coach Brad Soderburg. “...This is the first time we’ve had a really tough road game, and I’m really pleased that we came out with the win.”
Jermaine Bransford led the RiverHawks (15-6, 8-5) with 22 points and 11 rebounds. Bryton Hobbs tallied 14 points and Ethan Anderson totaled 13 points, but, in Gipson’s mind, the RiverHawks wasted too many possessions throughout the course of the game.
“In the 65 to 70 possessions in the game, we probably wasted a dozen or more possessions with either ill-advised shots or not getting the ball where we needed to get it or careless, foolish turnovers,” said Gipson, whose team turned the ball over 16 times.
Coming off an 83-82 victory over MIAA leader Central Missouri, Lindenwood took control with 13:15 left in the second half. Thompson made a layup — one of seven field goals made on 10 attempts — to put the Lions up 50-48, and Lindenwood would rattle off nine more unanswered points to all but sink any chance NSU had of winning the game.
“I’ve got four senior starters, and they’ve been with me for a long time. And I think that makes a difference,” Soderburg said. “I really believe that. They don’t panic. They just play and play, and I’ve got a staff that keeps me calmed down. I think that was a factor today; I think we kept our heads pretty well.”
The RiverHawks cut Lindenwood’s lead to nine (61-52) with 8:59 to play, but an intentional foul by Bransford — when he practically body-slammed Tyler Ressel to the floor — allowed the Lions to tack on three more points (via a free throw by Ressel and two by Thompson) and regain a comfortable lead.
NSU trailed 41-31 at halftime, but a 17-7 burst to begin the second half tied the game up for the fifth time at 48-all. From there, it was downhill for the RiverHawks.
“There were a combination of things,” Gipson said. “As we’re coming down the stretch I think there was a little bit of panic. We’ve been able to be a team that’s scored easily all year, and tonight we couldn’t score easily.”
Lindenwood, after making 15 of 26 shots from the floor in the first half, finished the game with a 51.1-percent (23 of 45) shooting effort from the field. The Lions also benefited from Bazzell’s 14-of-16 showing from the free-throw line to make 25 of 30 (83.3 percent) foul shots.
John Schneider chipped in with 10 points off the bench for NSU, but he was the only reserve to score the for the RiverHawks, who lost 18-10 in bench scoring.
As for slipping down to fifth in the standings, Gipson said that’s none of his concern right now.
“I don’t think we can look at that,” he said. “You have to try and learn from this game and get to the next game.”
NSU (women) 87, Lindenwood 50
Julie Hlinak sank Lindenwood’s opening shot attempt of the night, a 3-pointer to give the Lady Lions a one-point lead. Nineteen minutes later, Meagan Hittle sank a shot from midcourt.
Those were Lindenwood’s only feel-good moments of the night.
Northeastern State dominated every other second of the game, blowing out Lindenwood to improve to 15-6 overall and 10-3 in MIAA play.
“I think our defense was solid,” NSU coach Randy Gipson said. “We left them open on some shots in the first 10 minutes or so in the game, and then I think we tightened up the defense after that.”
Making every field goal she attempted, Fontana Tate led the RiverHawks with a career-high 17 points. The sophomore guard from Muldrow was 6 of 6 from the floor and 3 of 3 from beyond the 3-point arc.
Taylor Lewis and Tosha Tyler both tallied 15 points for NSU, and Sarah Green recorded her first double-double of the season with 12 points and 10 rebounds.
“I’m glad to see the balance, no question about it,” said Gipson, who also had Taylor Collins and Chelsey Stricklen post seven points apiece off the bench.
“I think that’s a potential really good strength that this team has. Everyone knows about our senior guards and their ability, but we feel like we have other people that can score, too.”
For the sixth time this season, NSU made more than half of its field-goal attempts, shooting at a 52.4 percent (33 of 63) clip against Lindenwood. The RiverHawks were also 11 of 25 (44 percent) from long range.
The Lady Lions (4-16, 1-11) shot 27.6 percent (16 of 58) from the field en route to their seventh straight setback.
With Lindenwood cutting NSU’s lead to 32-22 with 3:14 to play in the first half, the RiverHawks exploded for a 17-2 run before Hittle’s prayer 47 feet from the basket.
“We had a real good run there,” said Gipson, whose team’s 49 points in the first half were the most in a half this season.
With the win, NSU claimed sole possession of third place in the MIAA standings. The RiverHawks pulled ahead of Truman State, who suffered a 63-48 loss at Pittsburg State on Thursday.
Truman State will play a visit to Jack Dobbins Field House on Saturday.
Lindenwood 78, NSU (men) 66
LU 41 37 -- 78
NSU 31 35 -- 66
LU (15-5, 8-4): Alex Bazzell 24, Brett Thompson 18, Tyler Ressel 10, Cody Sorenson 9, R. Thompson 5, Ramirez 5, Smith 4, Marquardt 2, Eren 1.
NSU (15-6, 8-5): Jermaine Bransford 22, Bryton Hobbs 14, Ethan Anderson 13, John Schneider 10, Sheppard 6, DeMasters 1.
NSU (women) 87, Lindenwood 50
LU 27 23 -- 50
NSU 49 38 -- 87
LU (4-16, 1-11): Julie Hlinak 17, Marissa Lehnig 13, Meagan Hittle 12, Brown 3, Rocha 2, Bluemner 2, Milford 1.
NSU (15-6, 10-3): Fontana Tate 17, Taylor Lewis 15, Tosha Tyler 15, Sarah Green 12, Taylor Collins 7, Chelsey Stricklen 7, Fox 6, Bellamy 4, Reel 4.