The Lincoln women's basketball team had lost 10 straight games to open 2019. Enter Northwest Missouri, the only team the Blue Tigers had beaten in Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association play.
Lincoln never trailed after the game's opening six minutes and was led by Zhanesha Dickerson's 25 points and 11 rebounds Saturday in a 64-51 win at Jason Gym.
It was Lincoln's first win since beating St. Louis College of Pharmacy 71-42 on Dec. 30.
"It definitely feels good, it feels like a weight has been lifted off our shoulders," Lincoln coach Ayana McWilliams said.
Bre Coleman's three-point play following the media timeout in the first quarter put Lincoln ahead 7-5. For the next 4:45 — and the ensuing three quarters — the Blue Tigers never trailed.
Lincoln grabbed nine offensive rebounds in the win, which led to 14 second-chance points. Dickerson and Bre Coleman each scored a putback in the first quarter for the Blue Tigers.
"We realized Zhanesha had a mismatch a lot of the time, so we put her on the inside," McWilliams said.
The Blue Tigers led 17-12 after one quarter and scored the first five points in the second. Lincoln led by as many as 13 points, 31-18, after Dickerson knocked down a jumper from the left corner with 3:53 to go in the first half.
"We needed a few buckets," Dickerson said. "We tried hard to pound it inside to Bre to get her going. Everybody came to play."
Lincoln's lead was 34-24 at halftime. Northwest Missouri shot just 30 percent from the field in the first half, but the Bearcats found their shooting touch in the third quarter.
Mallory McConkey scored her team's first seven points in the second half. Jaelyn Haggard, who led Northwest Missouri with 19 points, made back-to-back 3-pointers to close the gap to five points a 44-39 with 4:09 to play. Lincoln committed a turnover on its next possession, leading to a media timeout.
The break in the action came at the perfect time for the Blue Tigers.
The Bearcats had a chance to cut the deficit to a single possession, but a missed shot on their end led to a 3 by Dickerson from the right corner on the other end.
Dickerson then added another 3 from the opposite corner with 1:36 left in the third, stretching the lead back to 50-39. The Bearcats never scored the rest of the third.
"That was the goal, to find a way to finish that quarter with stops," McWilliams said. "She came out and hit some big shots for us. That's the name of the game."
Northwest Missouri wouldn't get any closer than seven points of the lead the rest of the way. The Bearcats' 51 points are a season-low allowed by Lincoln in MIAA play.
"All the credit goes to the kids for their effort on the defensive side of the ball," McWilliams said after her team forced 20 turnovers. "We had been playing a lot of zone, and this was our first time playing man-to-man in a long time. I thought they handled the change very well."
Tempary Gunter returned to the court Saturday for the first time since Jan. 13. The Lincoln senior made a 3-pointer on her only shot attempt early in the fourth.
"It's definitely a pleasure having her back," McWilliams said of Gunter, who played five minutes off the bench. "(Friday) was her first practice, so we kept her limited today. We'll just ease her back in, but it's great to have an extra body and to have someone like Temp who can contribute."
Coleman and Zoi Thompson added 13 points each for the Blue Tigers.
"We can be dangerous when we get all three of them rolling," McWilliams said.
McConkey also reached double figures with 11 points for Northwest Missouri (7-15, 3-10 MIAA).
Lincoln (10-12, 2-11 MIAA) begins its last road trip of the season Thursday at Nebraska-Kearney. Tip-off is scheduled for 5:30 p.m.
With Saturday's win, Lincoln is tied with Southwest Baptist for 13th place in the MIAA with six games to play. Only the top 10 teams make the MIAA Tournament, and Missouri Southern is 10th with a 4-10 conference record.
"We want to keep it going," Dickerson said. "Six more games, we're going to fight as hard as we can to go 6-0 and get to the tournament."