PITTSBURG — No. 4 Pittsburg State women’s basketball survived a late rally to beat Nebraska-Kearney 84-80 in overtime Friday at John Lance Arena.
The Gorillas held a 15-point lead twice in the second half before the Lopers responded with an 18-3 run to tie the game up with seven minutes to play in regulation. A layup by UNK with less than 10 seconds sent the game into overtime, where the Gorillas used clutch free-throw shooting to finish off the Lopers.
“We really haven’t had that close of a game yet, so I think it was a good experience overall for us,” said Pitt State senior Paige Lungwitz, who scored a career-high 27 points in the win. “I think we just stuck together, powered through it and fed off each other’s energy. That’s what kind of brought us together in the end.”
The win preserves Pitt State’s perfect season, putting the team’s record at 8-0 on the year and kicking off MIAA play with a 1-0 record.
“This was a great test for us,” Pitt State sophomore Mikaela Burgess said. “Beating teams by 20 is great, but it doesn’t get you ready for the games you want to win down the road. A game like [tonight] really shows what kind of team you have, shows the potential you have and builds the confidence even more.”
The Gorilla women had three players finish in double figures, led by a pair of 27-point nights from Burgess and Lungwitz.
After contributing five points in the first half, Burgess exploded for 22 in the final 20 minutes. She connected on 4-of-10 3-pointers in the game, and was 7 of 9 from the free-throw line.
Lungwitz made 9-of-10 field goals in the win, adding seven free throws to the mix in her career night. She added two rebounds, three assists and a steal for PSU.
“Lungwitz was outstanding,” Pitt State head coach Lane Lord said. “That was the best game I have ever seen her play.”
Junior forward Elena Flott scored 15 points and grabbed a team-high 11 rebounds for the game’s only double-double.
Sophomore forward Madison Northcutt contributed eight rebounds and four points for PSU.
Michaela Barry led UNK in scoring, dropping 27 points on 10-of-16 shooting in the loss. She added four assists, two steals and two rebounds.
Alexa Hogberg had nine points, a game-high six assists, two boards and a pair of steals.
Pitt State lost the turnover battled 14-7, but outrebounded the Lopers 36-27. UNK’s bench outscored PSU’s 27-8 in the loss.
Both teams traded scores at the start of overtime before Pitt State was able to gain a four-point advantage on a tipin by Flott, followed by a pair of free throws by Northcutt with 1:58 to play to make the score 82-78.
Barry drove left for a UNK score to trim the Gorilla lead to 82-80 on the Lopers’ next trip down the court.
After missing a pair of free throws moments prior to extend the PSU lead, Burgess was true from the stripe, making both charity shots her second time around to give Pitt State an 84-80 lead with 17.1 seconds left in the game.
The Gorilla women’s defense held UNK off the scoreboard as time expired to preserve the win.
“We needed the adversity,” Lord said. “We’ve had seven blowouts, and we needed a game that was close to see how we responded.”
UNK’S SECOND-HALF RALLY
A slow start to the game saw the Gorillas eventually take a 34-27 lead into the half.
Burgess opened up the second half with a triple from the top of the key to push the lead to 10, 37-27.
Lungwitz knocked down a 3-pointer and Flott converted a three-point play to give PSU a 13-point cushion, 47-34, with seven minutes to play in the third period.
Back-to-back scores by Burgess — including a 3-pointer from the corner off the assist from point guard Haydn Herlocker — gave the Gorillas a 15-point lead, 54-38, with less than four minutes to go in the third quarter.
A 7-0 run by the Lopers in the closing minutes of the quarter cut the the PSU lead to eight, 56-48.
Imani Kyser had four points, with one field goal, and Nieka Wheeler knocked down a 3-pointer to cap the run.
Barry hit a last-second triple to close out the third quarter with UNK trailing 59-53.
After nearly two minutes of scoreless basketball to start the final period, UNK’s Kelsey Fitzgerald made it a four-point game, 59-55, on an inside score with 8:15 remaining.
After trailing by 15 twice in the game, the Lopers came all the way back to tie the game 59-all with 6:48 to go in the game on a deep 3-pointer by Abby Hix, capping a 9-0 run from UNK.
Nebraska-Kearney took the lead for the first time since leading 4-0 early in the game on a triple from Hogberg to make the score 62-61.
UNK stretched the lead to three on an inside score by Courtney Aitken, but Herlocker answered for her Gorillas, draining a 3-pointer to tie the game before a Burgess score in the paint gave PSU a 66-64 lead with 4:17 to play.
After trading baskets over the next several minutes, UNK took a four-point, 72-68 lead after back-to-back scores inside by Wheeler.
Burgess ripped a 3-pointer from the top if the key with 1:51 to go in the game, cutting the Loper lead to 72-71.
Lungwitz highlighted her career night with a monster three-point play, drawing the foul on a made inside score and converting the ensuing and-1 free throw, to make the score 74-72 in favor of the Gorillas with less than a minute to play.
UNK got a run-out layup by Wheeler off a Gorilla empty possession to tie the game at 74-all with 7.5 seconds to play, sending the game into overtime following a PSU miss at the other end with no time left on the clock.
“I was really impressed with Kearney,” Lord said. “We got up 15, they could have folded their tent on the road. To their credit, the really did a heck of a job on us today, especially defensively.”
Burgess scored her 1,000th-career point on an inside score at the 4:03 mark in the third quarter. She is the 20th player in program history to accomplish the scoring feat.
“It’s cool, but as Coach Lord said, [I have to] thank people who have been passing me the ball,” Burgess said. “I wouldn’t be able to score 1,000 [points] without my teammates beside me. Those kind of accomplishments are insignificant unless you go out and get an overtime win like that.”
The Gorilla women host Fort Hays State in a 1:30 p.m. matchup on Saturday at John Lance Arena.
-- Lucas Davis is the sports editor of the Pittsburg Morning Sun. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on twitter @LDsportswriter.