On any level of competition, early season basketball often brings out the good, the bad and the ugly in a game predicated on timing and rhythm.
Pittsburg State never trailed during its game Tuesday night against Baker (NAIA) but the Wildcats kept clawing away on the Gorillas and narrowed the lead down to 61-54 in the second half. The Gorillas went on a quick 9-0 scoring run to extend its lead to 16 en route to a 88-67 win in a refurbished John Lance Arena.
“I thought we were good at times,” Pitt State head coach Kevin Muff told reporters after the game. “I thought we showed maybe a little bit of what we’re capable of doing offensively. We could be very explosive. At times, we executed as well as we’ve executed any part of practice and any preseason stuff that we’ve done. That’s a positive to take but the consistency level, understanding what we want out of our offense and there’s times where I thought we were a little rushed.”
Senior center Rico Pierrevilus came out with a deft shooting touch and scored 18 first-half points on the strength of 7-for-7 shooting from the field and 2-2 from 3-point range. He scored eight of the first 10 Pitt State points and helped Pitt State claim a 30-8 lead. Pierrevilus finished with a near double-double of 20 points and nine rebounds.
Several players had memorable debuts for the Gorillas. Freshman point guard Kaleb Porter scored 16 points (shooting 9-11 at the foul stripe). Junior forward A.J. Adams (transfer from Eastern Arizona College) scored 16 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, plus two blocks and three steals. Freshman guard Jake Bullard finished with eight points and six rebounds. Freshman forward Denton Hays added six points, three rebounds and two assists. Junior guard and former Coffeyville product Ethan Cordray made a 3 late in the game.
Early season games show teams figuring themselves out and Coach Muff said that some mistakes are bound to happen in a season opener.
“We need about five or six more (games),” Muff said. “I’d go back out and play tonight if I could because we’re not where we need to be right now. Yeah, there were some good things. I’ll have to watch film and maybe I’m being too critical.”
“The beginning of the season is always to prepare for the big moments throughout the season with conference play,” Pierrevilus said. “We’re going to go through tough teams in this conference like Washburn and Central Missouri and Northwest. We’ve got to prepare ourselves.”
Meanwhile, the Wildcats of Baker already played four games before Pitt State and their roster features seven seniors (Todd Eils, Jordan Honore, Ben Steinlage, Corey Anderson, Baba Diallo, Kevin Lysaught, Samer Jassar). They proved a stingy first-game opponent for the Gorillas.
Page 2 of 2 - “Baker, they execute very well,” Muff said. “They’re a team with a lot of seniors on it and I think their senior experience at times showed better than some of our youth and inexperience. Give Coach Dooley and his group a lot of credit. They came in and played very well. I thought they gave us everything we wanted and we needed to see. I thought their press was effective. It forced us into some sloppy turnovers. I didn’t think we handled it extremely well. There’s some good things to take but obviously some bad things too.”
Corey Anderson and E.J. Carter each led Baker with 12 points and Brandon Moore added 10 for the Wildcats.
This was the first game for the Gorilla men in their revamped home arena.
“It’s got to be great to watch it from those seats,” Muff said. “It’s got to be great to be a part of the crowd. Even though it was pretty sparse tonight, you could still hear them, they were still involved. If that had been a home crowd last year, may not have thought anybody was in the gym. The band was great. I love the band. The band players, they got involved and they were chanting and they may not think it helps but it does and it makes a difference for our guys. They appreciate it. It’s such a classy environment.”
Pitt State (1-0) plays Friday in the Chris Tucker Memorial Classic against Lincoln, a nonconference game for the Gorillas in Joplin. The Gorillas face Avila on Saturday and return home Tuesday for the first in a series of four consecutive home games (Newman, Southwestern, William Jewell, Central Oklahoma) before heading out for the Las Vegas Challenge.