By TOMMY REZAC
St. Joseph Post
Missouri Southern went toe-to-toe with Missouri Western throughout, but the Griffons (12-1, 6-1 MIAA) got some key stops late and made enough free throws to defeat the Lions, 74-65, on Monday evening at the MWSU Fieldhouse.
Missouri Western nabbed a 20-12 lead in the first nine minutes, and went into the locker room ahead 35-32.
The Griffons led by as many as nine several times, but Missouri Southern refused to go away. The Lions closed to within one possession several times in the second half, but never tied or took the lead over the final two quarters.
"We had to battle," Missouri Western head coach Candi Whitaker said. "I thought in the first half, toughness was an issue. There were a lot of loose balls we weren't getting to. Rebounds they were beating us to, even though we had them outnumbered. But, I thought we fixed that in the second half. We did a much better job. Corbyn Cunningham, I thought, was outstanding on the glass."
Leading 70-65 with 28 seconds left, Missouri Western's Jordan Cunningham went to the foul line with her team in the double bonus. She missed both free throws, but Corbyn Cunningham grabbed an offensive rebound off of the second miss, saved the ball from going out of bounds and tossed it to Brionna Budgets.
Budgets was immediately fouled, went to the line with 24 seconds left and made both free throws to put the Griffons ahead 72-65.
"I thought that was the play of the game," Whitaker said. "It just showed (Corbyn's) heart and her desire to compete for her team when it doesn't feel good. Her knees aren't great and I'm super proud of her."
Missouri Western finished 17-of-23 at the free throw line.
Connie Clarke led four Griffons in double figures with 20 points. She also had seven rebounds. Jordan Cunningham had 13 points to go with four assists. Budgets finished with 12 points, five rebounds, three assists and two steals, while Alyssa Bonilla scored 10 points to go with seven rebounds and two assists.
All four of them played 30 or more minutes Monday.
"We needed people on the floor who I knew were going to play with the level of intensity and toughness, because this is probably one of the scrappiest, most physical, most tough teams in the league, and you have to secure every rebound," Whitaker said. "You need every pass and have to be really strong with the basketball."
Corbyn Cunningham logged seven points to go with a game-high 14 rebounds for Missouri Western. Madi Stokes led Southern (7-5, 4-3 MIAA) with a game-high 21 points to go with a team-best 11 boards.
Lacy Stokes had 19 points, six assists and six steals. Missouri Southern was a bit short-handed, with only three players rotating off the bench.
The Lions made 8-of-20 three-point attempts, but were just one 1-of-8 from the field overall to end the game.
Monday's win keeps Western in the top three of the MIAA standings and improves their record to 10-0 at home.
The Griffons go back on the road Thursday to face Emporia State (9-5, 4-4 MIAA). Tip-off in that game is set for 5:30 p.m. Coverage will start at 5 p.m. on KFEQ Radio (680, 95.3 FM).
Emporia lost at Central Missouri Monday, 83-49. Thursday's game will be just the fourth true road test of the season for the Griffons so far.
"That score really surprises me, "Whitaker noted. "Emporia has such a talented team. I'm anxious to see that film and see how that game unfolded. They're talented and they're going to be tough to guard."
Other MIAA scores Monday
Northwest Missouri State 66 (11-2) Pittsburg State 62 (9-5) - women
#2 Northwest Missouri State 74 (11-1) Pittsburg State 64 (4-10) - men
You can follow Tommy on Twitter @TommyKFEQ and St. Joseph Post @StJosephPost.