Missouri Western takes a No. 17 national ranking into its biggest weekend of the young season. They host undefeated Pittsburg State on Thursday, before welcoming the 7-1 Missouri Southern Lions to the MWSU Fieldhouse on Saturday.
“It is going to be a tough week at the Fieldhouse,” head coach Rob Edmisson said. “We hope to have a lot of people come out and support the kids. It is going to be an exciting week of basketball.”
The Griffons would not be sitting with a clean record at 7-0 if it were not for the team’s late-game heroics in last Saturday’s 93-87 victory over Southwest Baptist in Bolivar, Mo.
“The (Southwest Baptist) game on Saturday afternoon was, at best, chaotic,” Edmissoin said. “There were 68 fouls called.”
The game was tightly called from start to finish and had very little rhythm. Western had major foul concerns with LaQuinta Jefferson, Sarafina Handy, Chelsea Dewey, Julia Torres-Alves, Mhykeah Baez, Mili Koyamainavure and Sefulu Faavae, all picking up at least four fouls.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever been prouder of a group of young ladies than I was on Saturday afternoon with the adversity that came in that game,” Edmisson said. “Our kids three different times… could have folded it in and they didn’t.”
The foul trouble caused Western to play carefully and took them out of their free-flowing game.
Until the fourth quarter started and everything changed.
“(Our kids) just knew it was a matter of time and hopefully the minutes didn’t run out before we made our run,” Edmisson said.
With 8:07 showing on the clock, Western trailed 79-66 and all signs pointed to the first loss of the season for Edmisson’s club.
“I told the kids at halftime, we were down by 10, I said, ‘Guys, I’d much rather learn some stuff today with a win than learn with a loss.’ And they said, ‘Yeah, coach, we got it.’”
When times get tough – as they rarely have this season for the Griffons in their early season schedule – the team turns to it’s All-American candidate LaQuinta Jefferson.
Jefferson got things started with a jumper to cut the lead to 11.
“LaQuinta took that game on her shoulders,” Edmisson said. “We called a couple plays and she ‘Kobe’d’ it. She waved off the play and went on her own, asked for the ball and waved everyone out of the way.
“Sometimes that’s what a big-time player has to do, and that’s what she is. It is nice to have her at the end of the game be like, ‘O.K., I’m going to put it on my shoulders.”
After a trio of Western free throws, Jefferson drove the lane a put in a lay-up that cut the margin to six. Southwest Baptist answered with its own layup.
The Western bench then got into the action though and Dwanisha Tate – fresh into the contest – knocked down a confidence 3-point jumper and the lead was down to five with 4:38 remaining.
Southwest Baptist answered with another layup to bump the score to seven, but now the Griffons were rolling and once that happens, they are tough to stop.
Jefferson struck with a quick layup of the Bearcat make. Then she stole the ball from the Bearcat’s Ashlee Pitts and Baez converted on the other end to make it a three-point game.
Two possessions later, Bearcat star Dilonna Johnson committed an offensive foul and fouled out. Johnson finished with the team lead in the three major offensive categories with 18 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. Now with three minutes remaining, she was gone.
Now the Griffons smelled blood.
Baez put her own miss in and cut the lead to a single point 18 seconds later.
Then the person that started the comeback completed it. A Jefferson lay-up gave the Griffons the lead 2:10 left in the game.
The Bearcats didn’t give up as they hit a pair of free throws to retake the advantage with 1:26 left.
Dewey gave the Griffons the lead back at 86-85 with a jumper with 1:19 left. Koyamainavure added a lay-in with just over a minute left.
Jefferson, Dewey and Tate combined go 5 of 6 from the foul line to seal the Griffon win.
“I can’t say enough about how proud I am of that last eight minutes,” Edmisson said.
Now after proving to themselves that they can win a tight game with the odds stacked against them, Western enters the biggest week of their year with the most confidence they have had all year.