The Pittsburg State Gorillas had last played a basketball game 13 days before stepping on the floor of the Leggett & Platt Athletic Center in the Missouri Southern Thanksgiving Classic against Evangel.
Last season, Pitt State head coach Lane Lord regularly talked about paying respect to the basketball gods by getting the ball inside first before shooting 3s and that inside-before-outside strategy worked Friday night as Pitt State outscored Evangel 48-14 inside the paint en route to a 68-40 win.
Sophomore forward Lizzy Jeronimus led all scorers with 29 points and grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds, 6-foot-6 senior post Lauren Brown had eight points and nine rebounds, and freshman post Kylie Gafford added six points and three rebounds.
As a team, Pitt State made 58.1 percent (25-43) of its two-point field goal attempts and 17.6 percent (3-17) of its 3-point attempts for an overall shooting percentage of 46.7.
“I thought Lauren, Lizzy and Kylie all played well inside and we wanted to get in the paint before we shot 3s,” Pitt State head coach Lane Lord said. “The ones that did were real successful tonight and when we got in the paint, we made shots. We were very aggressive on that end and in the first half defensively, we didn’t play very hard. I think a lot of that had to do with two weeks off and a lot of turkey.”
The Gorillas used an 18-2 scoring run — including 13 unanswered — to gain a 35-17 halftime lead. Emily Akins of Evangel made a 3 to make it a 17-15 contest with 7 minutes, 19 seconds before halftime.
That score remained the same until Jeronimus hit a short jumper at the 4:55 mark and by the time Y’Cedria Devers made another short jumper with 53 seconds left, Pitt State had completed its 18-2 run.
Pitt State would use a 14-0 second-half scoring run to go from ahead 52-31 to 66-31, 35 points its largest advantage of the game. Over this stretch, six different Gorillas (Jeronimus, Devers, Gafford, Sara Molz, Hailey Roderique and Morgan Westhoff) scored at least two points.
Defense helped spark the Pitt State offense and led directly to several easy baskets. The Gorillas forced 20 turnovers, made 13 steals and scored 16 points off turnovers. In addition to its 20 turnovers, Evangel finished shooting 32.7 percent (17-52) overall and 18.2 percent (4-22) from 3-point range.
“I thought after that first 5-8 minutes, we were solid,” Lord said. “We were real slow getting out of the gates but we picked it up and held them to 40. That’s a good effort but we’ve got to be better offensively and we’ve got to play better team ball.”
Pitt State opened its season Nov. 9 with a 97-51 home win over Southwest Minnesota and defeated Mary (N.D.) 80-60 the next day in the Pitt State Tipoff Classic. Since then, it’s been heavy-duty practice time for the Gorillas. However, the schedule picks up with seven games between now and two days of games in the Las Vegas Challenge (Dec. 18-19).
Page 2 of 2 - “I know our kids are ready to be (back playing games),” Lord said. “We’re excited about it. We’ve got a lot of games coming up in the next couple weeks and I think we’d much rather play games than practice 14 days in-between. I know they were excited to play tonight and hopefully, they’ll have a little more pep in their step to start the game tomorrow than waiting 5 or 10 minutes to get started.”
Pitt State (3-0) plays Avila this afternoon (1 p.m.) in the Leggett & Platt. The Gorillas then play home games against William Jewell (Nov. 28), Quincy (Dec. 1) and Central Oklahoma (Dec. 6) before a road game against Lindenwood (Dec. 8). Central Oklahoma will be the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association opener for the Gorillas.
Meanwhile, the Pitt State men host Southwestern College (NAIA) at 3 p.m. this afternoon inside John Lance Arena.
The Gorillas (3-1) are looking to rebound from their first loss of the season, Tuesday night against Newman. Freshman point guard Kaleb Porter leads five Gorillas averaging double figures with a 22.5 scoring average and the Gorillas average 40 free throw attempts per game but 77 turnovers — including 29 against Newman — have proved costly.
The Moundbuilders enter today with a 8-2 overall record; forward Michael Morales leads Southwestern with 14.9 points and 7.4 rebounds per game and Cameron Clark averages 11.7 points and 8.6 rebounds.