TAHLEQUAH — Northeastern State rallied from a 15 point deficit in the third quarter and led with under five minutes remaining but fell 68-61 Saturday to Missouri Southern inside the NSU Event Center.
Zaria Collins paced the RiverHawks in scoring for the eighth time this season with 13 points. Cenia Hayes had a pair of big treys during NSU's run in the second half and finished with 12 points. Kiarra Brooks led NSU off the bench with ten points, a season-high for the junior.
"Our offense was a bit stunted in the first half, and I think if we could have got ourselves going a little bit earlier, it could have been and different story," said head coach Fala Bullock. "I thought that the kids fought hard...we just have to be able to put it together for a full game."
A pair of runs by Missouri Southern that started at the end of the first quarter and later in the second quarter resulted in a combined 18-2 scoring clip for the Lions. Behind 30 percent shooting for the RiverHawks in the second stanza, they were outscored 19 to 10 and left trailing Southern 36-23 into the intermission.
The deficit grew out to 15 points with just under four minutes to go in the third quarter before the RiverHawks dominated the following eight minutes and went on a 21-5 run. NSU continued to push the issue with Southern, and Hayes sunk a trey with 4:53 to go to hand them a 54-52 lead. The momentum swung around, and the Lions followed up with a 14-2 run on the RiverHawks to halt the NSU rally.
The RiverHawks shot 44.8 percent on the floor (26-58), and despite being undersized to Southern, they dominated the paint outscoring the Lions 42-to-28. Collins led NSU on the glass with seven and trailed the Lions by one in rebounding with 32.
"They had the biggest girl on the floor, and we started finding ways," said Bullock. Our guards were starting to get to the basket and finishing. I thought the paint battle was going to be the biggest challenge for us defensively...if we could just have a better first half and don't give up 13 points, you're in the ballgame. You don't spread yourself so thin that you are lacking there at the end."
Saturday's loss drops the RiverHawks to 4-10 overall and in the MIAA, and it is the third consecutive loss to the Lions.
Missouri Southern improved to 6-8, 6-8 and was led Madi Stokes, who had a double-double with 20 points and 18 rebounds.
Northeastern State will be on the road this upcoming week with a road test Thursday at Emporia State in Kansas. The Lady Hornets have won three straight at home and are 9-3 in MIAA play following an 85-65 win Saturday at Newman. ESU will be playing on short rest with a makeup game on Tuesday against Missouri Western before facing Northeastern State on Thursday.