Nov. 17—If there's one difference from last year to this season, the Missouri Southern women's basketball team features more firepower offensively.
The Lions spread the wealth around and still had Lacy Stokes be the star as No. 19 MSSU knocked off non-conference opponent Angelo State 83-66 on Thursday afternoon inside Leggett & Platt Athletic Center.
Finishing with four players in double figures, the Lions improved to 5-0 on the season. Stokes, pouring in 17 points, dished out a game-high nine assists to reach 200 for her career to make her the second fastest to reach that mark in school history (Diane Hoch did so in 29 games back in 1988-89).
Stokes, the only player to be named the MIAA's Player and Freshman of the Year in the same season, managed to do it in 35 games.
"It speaks a lot to my teammates," said Stokes, who prepped at Mount Vernon. "We've got a lot of scorers on the team. Without them, I couldn't have that accomplishment. I'm glad to have people like Kryslyn (Jones) that I can trust, who can make open shots."
Jones is one of those players that makes this MSSU team more potent offensively. The junior guard, who transferred from Texas A&M — Kingsville, adds another lethal perimeter option for the Lions.
She put her shooting touch on full display, hitting on an efficient 7 of 13 from the field and 4 of 6 from beyond the arc en route to scoring a game-high 18 points.
"The mentality was to share the ball, get open shots and execute today," Jones said.
Amaya Johns added 16 points for the Lions, while Purdy product Layne Skiles had 12. Former Cassville standout Madi Stokes contributed eight points.
"When you have multiple kids that can score the basketball, it makes it harder to guard you because you can't just key on one person," MSSU head coach Ronnie Ressel said. "They can't key on Lacy and try to shut her down because we have multiple kids that can score the basketball. We are excited about that aspect with more scoring than last year, a little more confidence with kids scoring the basketball."
The Lions controlled the pace and momentum of the game from start to finish. MSSU jumped out to a 21-14 advantage after one that swelled to 43-31 at the break.
ASU whittled the deficit down to 54-47 in the latter stages of the third quarter, but Skiles buried a 3-pointer to send the hosts into the fourth quarter with a 61-51 lead.
The Rambelles started the final frame strong, slicing the deficit down to 67-61 when Payton Brown hit a jumper with 6:28 left in regulation. The Lions never wavered, finishing on a 16-5 run to pull away down the stretch.
Ressel, the reigning MIAA Coach of the Year, called it a good start to the homestand.
"We shared the ball well — we had 20 assists on 32 made baskets," Ressel said. "It's always a positive when you have more assists than turnovers. We had some other kids make some shots. We shot it a little better from 3 than we have been, and then we did a good job of executing some of the sets we ran to get good shots in late-quarter situations. It's always positive when you do little things like that."
Sawyer Lloyd led ASU (2-1) with 18 points. Tayjanna McGhee-Pleasant recorded 14 points, while Brown and Madisen Honea chipped in 13 and 12 points, respectively.
REAPING THE BENEFITS
Most powerhouse teams make it a habit to schedule a brutal non-conference portion of the schedule.
MSSU fits the bill.
The Lions, who came within seconds of knocking off Division I Wichita State on the road earlier this month, fell 72-70 in an overtime exhibition. But that appears to have served its purpose as MSSU opened the season with impressive victories over No. 23 Lubbock Christian, Minnesota — Duluth, Henderson State and Harding.
Henderson State and Harding are receiving votes to be nationally ranked.
"It's definitely good to see some of these really good teams early in the season," Stokes said. "It tests us to see where we are at. I think we are playing really well right now."
These games also prepare the Lions for the ever-challenging conference slate. It was just last year that the MIAA boasted four teams to the Big Dance, headlined by seventh-seeded Missouri Western making a run to the Elite Eight.
And entering this season, the competition is seemingly just as stiff. Fort Hays State (third) and MSSU (19) were included in the top 25 preseason national rankings, while MWSU and Nebraska Kearney received votes.
"(This non-conference schedule) prepares us well," Ressel said. "Of course, we had a really good season last year. I wanted to challenge them to get ready for the conference. The MIAA is so tough year in and year out. ... This gets us ready for those tough ball games."
The Lions have two home games remaining in non-conference against Missouri S&T at 5:30 p.m. next Wednesday and Central Christian College at 1:30 p.m. next Saturday.