It was an afternoon of mayhem that defines the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association on the basketball court.
For 40 minutes, there was little time for either the Lincoln Blue Tigers or the Missouri Southern Lions to take a collective breath. A total of 55 fouls were called, and just when it seemed like Lincoln had the game put away with a 20-point lead in the second half, back came Missouri Southern.
What once was a 21-point Lincoln lead turned into a tie game late in the second half, but the Blue Tigers regained their composure long enough to escape with a 90-83 win Saturday against the 20th-ranked Lions at Jason Gym.
"It was the MIAA at its best," said Lincoln coach John Moseley, who let out an emphatic "Woo!" as he left the court after the win. "You have to show up, play and compete every night."
For Lincoln (10-3, 3-1 MIAA), Saturday was its first win against a top 25 team since beating 25th-ranked Northwest Missouri 79-74 on Dec. 18, 2015. It was also the Blue Tigers' first home victory against the Lions since the 1995-96 season.
"For our guys to take this step as a program right now is a really big deal for us," Moseley said. "We've been preaching to them all along that we're as good as anybody in this conference, and I really believe that. That's not coach-speak."
Missouri Southern (11-3, 2-2 MIAA) struggled late in Thursday's 79-57 loss at Lindenwood — which snapped an 11-game win streak — and the Lions came out struggling Saturday against Lincoln as well.
Amariontez Ivory hit a pair of 3-pointers and Grant Olsson added a pair of sky hooks in the first four minutes, building a 12-5 advantage for the Blue Tigers.
"We shot lights out in the first half," said Moseley, whose team was 8-of-13 from 3 in the opening 20 minutes. "They zoned us quite a bit, and we're a hard team to zone because of how well we share the ball and how well we shoot the ball."
Then Terrance Smith, Lincoln's 6-foot-8 senior forward, caught a hot streak.
Smith stepped out and knocked down three 3s in the first half, and he scored 13 of Lincoln's last 18 points to end the half. By intermission, he already had a double-double of 21 points and 11 rebounds.
"They were telling me (Missouri Southern) had one of the best big men in the league," said Smith, who finished with game highs of 35 points and 14 rebounds. "I had to go out there and show them that I think I'm the best player in this league."
Smith's counterpart to whom he was referring, Missouri Southern's Cam Martin, finished the game with 21 points and 11 rebounds before fouling out with 2:19 to play.
"I'm from a city where basketball like this is normal, it's all rough and gritty" said Smith, a Memphis, Tenn., native. "This is my type of game, I love to play these types of games."
Lincoln went on a 9-0 run late in the first half to briefly lead by 21 points at 47-26. Elyjah Clark knocked down a 3 just before half for the Lions to cut it to 18 points.
Foul trouble was an issue early in the first half for the Blue Tigers. Ni'Sean Rigmaiden and Jonell Burton, both starters, had three fouls each less than six minutes in, and Missouri Southern was in the bonus at the 14:12 mark.
It became a problem again early in the second half. By the time the Lions were back in the bonus with 13:28 to play, Rigmaiden had four fouls and four other Blue Tigers had three each.
"We had to expand our bench a little bit tonight," Moseley said.
As Lincoln began putting players with four fouls on the bench and saving them for the end of the game, that's when Missouri Southern began its comeback. Down 19 points with 11:43 to play, the Lions used a 16-3 run to close the gap to 72-66 with 7:07 remaining.
A pair of free throws from Olsson interrupted the Lions' run, but Clark answered with a 3 to make it a 5-point contest. Then the Blue Tigers' lead was down to four points, then two, and finally a drive and a layup by Reggie Tharp evened the score at 74 with 3:49 still to play.
"I didn't use a timeout because I trust these guys, we work on this stuff every day," Moseley said. "We take pride in executing offensively."
Missouri Southern had yet to lead in the game, and Ivory made sure that never changed.
On the ensuing possession, he drew a foul as he hit a 3 that bounced multiple times on the rim before falling in, leading to the final media timeout with 3:25 left in the game.
"Tez is Mr. Clutch," Olsson said. " If there's anybody who I would think is going to get the and-one 3 to take the lead, it's Tez Ivory."
Ivory's free throw completed the four-point play, and after a Missouri Southern turnover and missed shot the next two times down the court, Rigmaiden scored on a three-point play to extend Lincoln's lead to 81-74 with 2:19 to play.
"The game of basketball can turn on a play or two," Moseley said, "even if it's a 20-point lead or a 2-point lead. Momentum can change so quickly. I really thought Tez's 3 gave us the opportunity to catch our breath, and you could see the confidence level of the players on the bench change significantly."
Lincoln maintained at least a two-possession lead the rest of the way, making 7-of-10 free throws in the final minute. The Blue Tigers finished 24-of-28 at the line.
Ivory finished with 20 points, while Olsson scored a season-high 17 points, his most in a Lincoln uniform. He was one of the few Blue Tigers to avoid foul trouble and played a team-high 35 minutes.
"He's been so solid all year," Moseley said of Olsson, who is averaging 9.9 points per game. "He's much more comfortable in the offense. He spends as much in the gym as any player in our program, and to see him have this success his senior year is a big deal."
Clark led Missouri Southern with 27 points, scoring 16 in the second half. Kinzer Lambert, who went head-to-head against Olsson for most of the game, added 14 points.
Lincoln, which has won six straight games, is off until next Saturday when it plays at Lindenwood (9-7, 2-2 MIAA). Tip-off is at 3:30 p.m.
"Missouri Southern was picked first in a lot of (MIAA) preseason polls," Olsson said, "so this lets the rest of the conference know that we mean business and we're a team to contend with."