FAYETTE -- The Missouri Valley College men's basketball team got a balanced attack Thursday to win its first Heart of America Conference game of the season, 81-70 at Central Methodist.
All five starters scored at least nine points for the Vikings, which also held a 22-11 advantage from the bench. Valley trailed only once, after the Eagles scored the game's first basket, and maintained a two-possession lead for all but four seconds of the second half.
A 12-3 surge midway through the first half, with two goals each by senior James Pope and junior Jim Thomas, pushed the Vikings' lead to 13 points. A three-pointer by senior Alex Barner began a strong close to the period by Methodist, which trimmed the margin to four points at the break.
Junior Michael Banks finished a fast break to get the Eagles to within two points early in the second half, but a lay-up by freshman Jordan Epps and two shots from junior Kendall Hays -- a 6-foot-6 transfer seeing his first action of the season for Valley -- extended the gap to eight points.
The Vikings' cushion would range from five to 11 points the rest of the game. They were sent to the free-throw line 12 times during the final 69 seconds, but converted 11 straight attempts to nail down the victory.
Central Methodist (11-7, 4-2 HAAC) got a game-high 23 points from junior Melvin Tillman and 20 points and eight rebounds from Banks.
Epps topped the Vikings (6-11, 1-4) for the seventh game in a row with 17 points, with junior Lawrence Brown adding 14 points and six boards and Thomas contributing nine points, five assists and four steals.
Valley shot a season-high 55.8 percent from the field and had its second-best point total, 13.1 points above its per-game average.
Earlier in the evening, the Lady Vikings pushed 17th-ranked Methodist down the stretch, but couldn't quite get over the hump during a 64-57 loss -- their seventh in a row.
Senior Cara Clark scored six points in the first eight minutes to stake Valley to a five-point lead, but the Lady Eagles used a 17-7 stretch to take a 28-23 advantage into intermission.
The lead changed hands four times through seven minutes of the second half. Methodist got long jumpers from senior Raylyn Nuss and junior Nakia Robinson to go up by eight points with under seven minutes remaining, but couldn't shake the Lady Vikings.
Freshman Rayna Smith and junior Regine Mecenario struck from outside to pull Valley to within a point with 3:19 left. After trading baskets, the Lady Eagles got a lay-up from junior Britney Joseph and a bomb by junior Sammie Gathercole for a six-point lead with 53 seconds to go.
Methodist made five of six free throws to negate buckets from senior Gabi Morales and Clark.
Nuss and senior Towanda Sutton had 13 points each to lead the Lady Eagles (16-1, 5-1) to their eighth win in a row.
Clark finished with 16 points, with Morales and Smith adding a dozen apiece, for the Lady Vikings (4-13, 1-4).
Valley will be at home Saturday for a doubleheader against MidAmerica Nazarene.