It wasn't a typical win for the Lincoln men's basketball team.
Then again, this hasn't been a typical season for the Blue Tigers.
Lincoln, the third-best 3-point shooting team in Division II entering Thursday night, shot just 1-of-14 beyond the arc against Missouri Western. The Blue Tigers made up for it on defense, holding the Griffons to 29.8 percent shooting to win 66-52 at Jason Gym.
"This team has shown the ability to make some shots, but I hope tonight's a learning lesson for us," Lincoln coach John Moseley said. " Even though we know we can shoot the basketball, we've played enough games now where guys have to get a feel for what's working."
With the win, Lincoln (16-5, 9-3 MIAA) matches its best start since the 2000-01 season. The 52 points were also a season-low allowed by the Blue Tigers.
Lincoln opened the game by scoring on its first four possessions to build a 9-2 advantage. Ni'Sean Rigmaiden made the team's lone 3 during that stretch.
"Making shots gives you a little bit of energy on the defensive end," Moseley said. "I thought we did a good job of executing early."
Although Lincoln didn't get the 3s to fall the rest of the game, the Blue Tigers still managed to shoot 58 percent inside the arc.
Terrance Smith didn't score in the game's first 11 minutes, but he accounted for 14 of Lincoln's final 20 points in the first half. Smith finished with a game-high 25 points.
Although Lincoln had a comfortable lead entering the final minute of the first half, two big hustle plays accounted for a seven-point swing.
Missouri Western's Tyrell Carroll grabbed a steal near mid-court and headed in for a layup. Lincoln's Darrius Spencer caught up with Carroll and blocked his shot, got the rebound and worked the ball ahead to Smith for a layup with :38 to play.
"That play sums up what Darrius does for us," Moseley said of Spencer, who played a season-high 15 minutes off the bench. "He brings that level of energy every day. He doesn't get a ton of opportunities, but he's certainly a guy that, when we need to plug a gap, he's capable of doing it."
On the final possession of the first half, Smith tracked down a long rebound off a missed 3 in the right corner and put up a 3-point attempt, drawing a foul with :00.1 on the clock. He made all three free throws to give Lincoln a 39-24 advantage at intermission.
"I didn't even see the play," said Moseley, who had already begun to head toward the locker room. " I heard the whistle blow, didn't know what happened and the guys told me Terrance made a great play."
Lincoln made 21-of-23 free throws in the win, and Smith made all 13 of his attempts.
"That's really big for us to be able to march to the free-throw line and feel good about our chances of earning those two points," Moseley said.
Smith also garnered plenty of attention from Missouri Western, drawing foul after foul as he posted up inside to start the second half. First JJ Jones picked up his fourth foul, then Alex Martin got his fourth with 11:17 to play.
Smith accounted for all of Lincoln's scoring in the first 10 minutes of the second half.
"At halftime, we thought we had an advantage inside, and that's where we wanted the ball to go," Moseley said.
Lavon Hightower fouled Smith with 5:15 to play, his fifth foul of the game. Hightower had scored 20 or more points in each of his last four games, but he finished with just nine points Thursday.
"Grant (Olsson) did a great job on Lavon Hightower, one of the best players in the MIAA," Moseley said. "He doesn't have many nights like he did tonight."
Bryan Hudson and Carroll each scored 11 points to lead Missouri Western (10-13, 4-8 MIAA).
Rigmaiden and Jonell Burton added 11 points each for Lincoln. Smith and L'Kielynn Taylor both grabbed eight rebounds.
With the win, Lincoln remains tied with Washburn for second place in the conference with seven games to play. But up next for the Blue Tigers is a matchup against the MIAA's No. 1 team.
Lincoln hosts top-ranked Northwest Missouri (22-0, 12-0 MIAA) at 3 p.m. Saturday. The Bearcats clinched a spot in the MIAA Tournament on Thursday with a 72-41 win at Lindenwood.
In their previous meeting Dec. 6 at Maryville, the Blue Tigers lost 85-78, but they are just one of three teams to lose by single digits this season to the Bearcats.