For the second year in a row, the Missouri Southern State University Lion’s Men’s Basketball season ends in a disappointing fashion. With the Lions losing in the first round of the MIAA tournament to Central Oklahoma by a score of 101-109, they fall short of clinching a spot in the 48-team NCAA D2 National Tournament.
Last year, Southern’s basketball team was the pride of the University; they were flat-out dominant. They went on a deep run in the MIAA Tournament but ultimately fell in the Finals in a classic against top-ranked Northwestern Missouri State. The Lions had clinched a spot in the Men’s Basketball Tournament as a No. 5 seed and were prepared to face off against Northern State University from South Dakota before the tournament got canceled due to the outbreak of COVID-19, ultimately finishing the season with a 23-8 record.
Coming into the 2020 season, the Lions were returning with a majority of their roster, including their star player, Cam Martin, senior. The Lions had very high expectations based on their results last year and were poised to make a deep run in the MIAA and NCAA Tournaments once again.
This season, the Lions did not play as many games due to COVID-19 precautions, which hamstrung the basketball team to only interconference games. Regardless of this, the Lions got off to a hot start despite being on the road with a 3-0 record. Martin was playing his best basketball, scoring at least 20 points in each contest.
Things took a turn for the worst shortly after when the Lions went on a 1-5 skid which resulted in Southern only winning one game in a six-week span. Even with huge games from Martin, the team simply could not come away on top; which put them below the .500 mark for the first time since 2017.
Luckily, Southern was able to get back in stride with a blowout win over Nebraska-Kearney, outscoring the Lopers by a score of 85-57. The Lions won this game on the backs of Martin and Senior Stan Scott, who had a double-double. This big win propelled a hot streak for the Lions that would take them into the latter part of the season, going 6-1 over their next seven games that would give them momentum going into a showdown against the No. 3 Northwest Missouri State Bearcats.
The showdown against the Bearcats was expected to be a big one, especially considering the fact that the University updated its attendance policy, allowing fans to enter the Leggett and Platt Athletic Center to cheer on the Lions for the first time this season. The Bearcats started well, and even though the Lions were able to compete with the top-ranked Bearcats squad, they fell short in a 74-84 defeat.
In the next game, the Lions responded in a huge way. Missouri Southern hosted rival Pittsburg State in a make-or-break game for the Lion’s basketball season. The Gorillas had already defeated the Lions earlier in the season, and Southern could not allow their rivals to sweep them. From the beginning, it wasn’t much of a contest. The Lions got off to a very hot start and went into the locker room at halftime with a 55-38 lead. In the second half, they were able to hold off the Gorillas with ease and ended up finishing on top by a score of 93-74, by way of huge games from Martin and Winston Dessesow.
Even though the season had been up-and-down at this point for the Lions, the win over Pittsburg State was a huge morale booster and a sigh of relief for the Lions fanbase.
The Lions would split contests between Washburn and Central Oklahoma before postseason play would approach. In order for Southern to get a spot in the National Tournament, they had to earn the respect of the Division 2 committee by making a run in the MIAA Tournament.
In the first round, the Central Oklahoma Bronchos were the opponent for the Lions.
The previous Saturday, the Lions lost to the Bronchos in heartbreaking fashion with a 101-105 loss in a game that went to overtime, and despite a huge 25-point effort from Scott, the Lions could not prevail.
The Lions still had an opportunity to avenge themselves in a huge way with a crucial tournament win over the Bronchos. Early on, the Lions were down by double digits as it was rare for the Bronchos to miss their shots. By the time halftime rolled around, the Lions were able to inch their deficit, trailing by a score of 42-47. In the second half, both teams came out explosive, but it wasn’t enough as the Lions fell once again to the Bronchos by a score of 101-109. Martin had a huge game with 31 points and Seniors Scott and R.J. Smith were right behind him with huge games as well.
Two days later, the NCAA Division 2 Tournament Committee decided which teams were going to be in the National Tournament, but unfortunately, the Lions fell just short of qualifying, so with that loss to Central Oklahoma; their season is over.
For the Lions, the season was a struggle. They finished with a 13-10 record, while that is not necessarily bad by any means; it is still their worst record since the 2012-2013 season. The Lions roster is also taking a beating for next season, losing All-MIAA Forward Martin as well as Scott who has been a key contributor for the Lions all season. Overall, it was a solid season for the Lions; but considering how they performed in years past, it was a slight disappointment.