Feb.9, 2019

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. --- As Saturday's game was getting ready to tip, Lincoln basketball had already won.

Sure, about two hours later, the Blue Tigers actually lost the game 75-57 to Northwest Missouri State, but don't get distracted by the details.

It's what you call losing the battle, but winning the war.

Because for those who have been around this program for a long time, they experienced a buzz and electricity in Jason Gym that hasn't been seen or felt in 40 years, harking back to the glory days of the irrepressible Harold Robertson in the late 1970s.

Robertson, if you didn't know, is Lincoln's all-time leading scorer with 2,551 points, which is also a total that's still second-best in MIAA history.

No 3-point line necessary, thanks.

John Moseley can't walk on water and he's not a miracle worker --- but he's close, considering how he's transformed this perennial embarrassment into a competitive contender.

Is embarrassment too strong? The five years prior to Moseley's arrival, the Blue Tigers were 19-111. 

That would be embarrassing.

The Blue Tigers hadn't had a winning season since 2001-02 when Moseley took over as head coach in 2014. His first year was more of the same, 4-24, but now he's put together four straight winning seasons.

That had happened since .... ? You guessed it, the Reign of Robertson four decades ago.

"It's been fun to see the excitement building," Moseley said. "Obviously, we're disappointed with the outcome today, but this group has a lot of basketball left to be played."

As we said, the Blue Tigers are winning the war, but this is a never-ending war that's never truly won.

But on this day, win or lose the game, they should have felt like winners.

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AS FOR THE GAME ITSELF, well, it wasn't much of one after the first 15 minutes.

Certainly, part of the buzz on this day was created by Lincoln's opponent, the undefeated Bearcats who are the nation's No. 1 ranked team in Division II.

But the rest of the buzz was supplied by the home team, who entered the game second in the MIAA standings and had a truly realistic shot to pull off the upset. The The Blue Tigers were, after all, only one of three teams to stay within single digits of the Bearcats all season.

And the start couldn't have been much better for the Blue Tigers (16-6, 9-4 MIAA).

Playing before a full and enthusiastic house, Terrance Smith scored on a short jumper 25 seconds into the affair to give the Blue Tigers a lead they'd keep for the next 15 minutes. The lead would be as much as six, at 22-16.

"I thought we had a decent plan of attack going in," Moseley said. "We were able to get some decent looks and we defended really well, early.

"If you're going to beat those guys, you've got to keep game pressure on them, you've got to score with them, and you've got to try and make them play from behind a little bit to see if that will mess with their pysche'."

So far, so good. But then, guard Ni'Sean Rigmaiden went to the bench with his second foul with 8 1/2 minutes left in the first half.

"Ni'Sean getting in foul trouble hurt us, it took us out of our rhythm, offensively," Moseley said. "We were playing well, we had a six-point lead when he was on the floor. Then when he went out, that's when they began to chip away."

This was more like a wrecking ball than a chisel the Bearcats (23-0, 13-0) took to the Blue Tigers.

They took their first lead --- and the lead for good --- with four minutes left in the first half at 27-26. They would expand the margin to 36-28 at the half, before supplying the early knockout blow --- a 10-0 burst in the first 2 1/2 minutes of the second half.

That blew it open at 46-28, and ended a stunning and game-stopping 30-6 run.

"Overall, I thought we defended pretty well," Moseley said, "but you can't go long stretches not scoring the basketball, like we did. I think we scored four points, maybe, in an 11- or 12-minute stretch in the game, and you just can't afford to do that against good teams."

Let alone the No. team in the country.

"They don't make mistakes and you can't make mistakes against them," Moseley continued, "because they're going to make you pay when you do."

This also didn't help the Lincoln cause --- leading scorer and rebounder, Terrance Smith, played 18 minutes and scored 11 points in the first half. But due to foul trouble after the break, he played only seven minutes and scored just four points.

In the first meeting, an 85-78 Bearcat win Dec. 6 in Maryville, Smith finished with 22 points and 10 rebounds.

"That was very frustrating," Smith said about his time on the bench. "We were down, and I know my team needed my help on offense and defense, as well. And I couldn't be nothing but a voice on the bench for them."

There was also this --- the Bearcats had 26 free throw attempts, the Blue Tigers only eight. Lincoln was outscored by 17 points at the line in an 18-point loss.

But ...

"The officiating didn't give us an 18-point deficit," said Moseley, who was whistled for a technical foul midway through the second half.  "We did that to ourselves."

Joey Witthus, a 6-7 senior, poured in 30 points for the winners, while the dynamic guard tandem of Trevor Hudgins and Diego Bernard scored 24 and 14 points, respectively.

And Hudgins and Bernard are both only freshmen.

"They're going to be a problems for years to come," Moseley said. "(Northwest) has got the cream of the crop right now in the conference, and it's everybody else's job to catch them."

For the Blue Tigers --- who also received 15 points from Amariontez Ivory and 10 from Jonell Burton --- they now hit the road for games at Nebraska-Kearney on Thursday and next Saturday at Fort Hays State in Kansas.

"Right now," Moseley said, "our focus is to hit the road for a really big road trip. We've got some guys who need to get their swagger back a little bit."

Trying to get it back in five days sounds a lot better than 40 years.

Lincoln loses game to NWMS,
but this was still a winning day

Lincoln junior Jonell Burton soars to the hoop to score two of his 10 points during Saturday's game with Northwest Missouri State at Jason Gym.

Loeffler's Link

Chris Leuckel