Following his team's 30-13 loss the previous night at Smith-Cotton, Lady Owls head coach Tony Willis knew taking on the league leader would be a challenge.
"I knew we would be a little sluggish because it's kind of a demoralizing game when you only score 13 points and had been playing as well as we have all year," he explained.
The Lady Tigers front-court press created problems for Marshall from the start, resulting directly in half of their 10 first-quarter takeaways. The Lady Owls didn't get off a shot before sophomore Molly Evans sank a three-pointer two-and-a-half minutes into the game.
"We talked about how to break it, then went out there and didn't do what we were supposed to do," Willis admitted. "When we finally got the person in the middle, it started opening up a little more."
During Kirksville's 21-4 first quarter, senior McKenzie Russell scored six points and dished out four assists, three contributing to senior Ashton Vorkink's nine points.
Another problem for Marshall before they went into halftime trailing 34-13 was defensive rebounding, collecting only half of the 18 available boards and yielding 10 second-chance points.
"It seems like we were a step slow to the ball," Willis said. "When you're a step slow and they're a step fast, they're going to get to a lot of balls. That creates big margins."
The Lady Owls only committed five turnovers during the second half, but still gave up a 12-3 run coming out of the break as Russell and senior Haley Phillips buried perimeter jumpers.
Junior Karson Heying and senior Whittni Ervin scored inside buckets to close the third period and Marshall enjoyed a 9-8 edge during the final frame.
"The second half was a different look," Willis said. "We got some players in there who had been struggling and they picked it up a little bit."
Russell and Vorkink both scored 17 points for Kirksville (13-1, 5-0 NCMC), which demonstrated its quality by the cohesiveness of its team play. Of the Lady Tigers' 20 field goals, 15 were assisted -- seven by Russell -- due largely to well-executed give-and-gos and back-cuts.
The Lady Owls (6-4, 2-2), who got 10 points from Evans, are not yet at that level of offensive efficiency -- although the first half of the season was their best in six years. They'll try to regain that groove Saturday at Hannibal.
"We don't have to change anything," Willis asserted. "We just have to get back to doing the things that made us successful."