PITTSBURG — The season hasn’t gone according to plan to this point, but the Pittsburg State men’s basketball team had a fresh start in the new year after picking up a home win, but will need to stay sharp on the road against Missouri Western on Thursday.
Although the Gorillas didn’t necessarily win pretty over Avila on Tuesday, they will certainly take it, as every win helps when going through a difficult season.
“[The win] has helped our confidence and given us a much needed lift of positive energy heading into tomorrow at Missouri West,” PSU head coach Kevin Muff said. “I want us to take some of the defensive fight and offensive aggressiveness that helped us win that game into our next game.”
Closing out the game on top was a breath of fresh air for the Gorillas, who have had difficulty maintaining leads, but they will face a similar team in the Griffons (4-9) at 7:30 p.m.
“[Missouri Western] is a good and well-coached team, facing some of the same struggles we are,” Muff said. “They have a definite size advantage and experience at the guard spots on us. We will need to be aggressive on the glass and do a better job than we did on Monday of keeping the ball out of the paint-both off the bounce and deep post touches by their bigs.”
Pitt State may have been able to fight through adversity within the friendly confines of John Lance Arena, but the upcoming road trip will be the Gorillas’ first test of the new year.
“Getting road wins has always been difficult and it takes a special effort to beat any team at their place,” Muff said. “Our goal is to get better as a team and reach our full potential each night out and continue to take positive steps.”
Probably the biggest challenge the Gorillas are dealing with is life without Josiah Gustafson, who will be sitting out his senior season with an injury.
“It was a very difficult decision for him to end his senior season early, but one that is best for him and his health,” Muff said. “Where do you start in measuring the positive impact he has had on our program, the community and the university? What Josiah has given to our program is irreplaceable and we are forever grateful, but we have to pick up and move forward.”
Muff said that It will have to be a team effort to make up for this devastating loss, even if fully replacing him is an impossible task.
“R.J. Pair is a guy we need and he will respond,” he said. “He is extremely talented and gifted. Solid play from Jaxon is crucial also, like he was in his last game. Another key for us on Thursday will be the play of Christian Edmondson. His size will be crucial against the size of Western.”
If the Gorillas were to pull out a win on Thursday, it could be the turning point of the season.
“[We need to] garner some confidence, which comes from playing together and for each other,” Muff said. “Also believing in the process. As a coach, instilling confidence in our guys and a belief in them as a group, continuing to coach them and make the necessary adjustments each game to put us in the best possible position to win.”
—Jordan Buckamneer is a sports reporter of the Pittsburg Morning Sun. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on twitter @jbuckamneer.