It was the start Lincoln coach Ayana McWilliams had hoped for Saturday. The Blue Tigers just couldn't quite sustain it for a full 40 minutes of regulation, plus five minutes in overtime.
Chelsey Henry scored 26 of her career-high 35 points after halftime, powering the Missouri Southern Lions to an 81-78 win against Lincoln at Jason Gym.
"I thought we fought hard from start to finish," McWilliams said. "We battled back from the other night's showing, which is all I asked of them, to come out and fight for what they want.
"The little things caught up to us in the end, but I'm proud of the effort. I thought we weathered the storm, it was just the little things."
In Thursday night's 98-68 loss to Pittsburg State, Lincoln fell behind 11-0 less than two minutes into the contest. Saturday's start was a complete 180 for the Blue Tigers.
Lincoln scored on each of its first three possessions against Missouri Southern. Then Zoi Thompson drove in for a layup, her third of the game, with 7:57 left in the opening quarter to put the Blue Tigers ahead 8-0.
"They responded the way you'd hope after losing here at home," McWilliams said. "That energy carried us much of the night."
The Blue Tigers had their biggest lead of the game at 14-4 after another drive and layup by Thompson, but Lincoln's shot selection began to change as Missouri Southern intensified its defense. The Lions held the Blue Tigers without a field goal for the last 4:12 of the first quarter, cutting their deficit to 14-10 entering the second quarter.
Missouri Southern tied the score five times in the second quarter, but couldn't get a basket when it had a chance to take the lead. Tempary Gunter hit the first of her four 3-pointers from the left wing with one second on the clock, giving Lincoln a 30-27 advantage heading into halftime.
Although the Blue Tigers shot 48.3 percent from the field in the first half, McWilliams felt fortunate to have the lead, considering her team had already committed 16 turnovers.
"There's no excuse to turn the ball over," she said. "That's something we harp on every day. We try to keep it at 12 or less, and we turned it over a heck of a lot in the first half."
The third quarter quickly became a scoring contest between Henry and Thompson. Henry scored 15 of her team's 28 points in the quarter, and her 3 from the right wing with 5:33 left in the third gave the Lions their first lead at 40-39. Thompson countered with 10 of Lincoln's 22 points in the third.
However, it was a 3 by Destiny Cozart just before the buzzer that gave Missouri Southern a 55-52 lead going into the fourth.
"Henry's a heck of a player, and we knew that coming in," McWilliams said. "She's their go-to player, their playmaker. She came in and did her job, but I thought we did a solid job on her, at the very least."
In a game that featured 18 ties and nine lead changes, it made for a busy final few minutes of regulation.
Kaloni Pryear scored a layup with 3:58 to play, giving Lincoln a 66-64 advantage. The score would stay that way until Thompson made 1-of-2 free throws with 1:04 left.
Cozart, who finished with 15 points, tied the game at 69 with a 3 with :12.4 remaining. On the other end, Bre Coleman put up a baseline jumper against a double-team that was off the mark with about four seconds left, sending the game to overtime.
"That whole play folded," McWilliams said. " That wasn't the shot we were trying to get."
Lincoln led for just seven seconds total in overtime. Layne Skiles scored a layup with :47 left to give Missouri Southern (10-4, 2-2 MIAA) the lead for good at 79-77.
Thompson led the Blue Tigers with 27 points, adding six assists. Gunter scored 18 points and Zhanesha Dickerson chipped in 15 points. Coleman posted a double-double of 11 points and 14 rebounds.
"Free throws, turnovers and missed box-outs down the stretch were the difference in the ballgame," McWilliams said.
Lincoln (9-4, 1-3 MIAA) plays next Saturday at Lindenwood (10-1, 4-0 MIAA). Tip-off is at 1:30 p.m.