PITTSBURG — The Pittsburg State women used a suffocating defense and big third-quarter run on the way to a blowout win over rival Missouri Southern, 68-45, Saturday at John Lance Arena.
After a first half with an offense that struggled to be efficient, the Gorilla women — who held a six-point lead at the intermission — came out of the half with a purpose. Led by a dominating defensive effort all game long, Pitt State’s offense caught up in the second half as the Gorillas outscored the Lions 44-27 in the final 20 minutes to cruise to victory.
“It’s a big win, and a whole different kind of feeling to have a win like that,” Pitt State sophomore Mikaela Burgess said. “Tight games just wear you out. It feels good to come out [in the second half] and get on them, stay on them and get the win.”
Pitt State (13-4, 7-4 MIAA) had a defensive game plan which smothered Missouri Southern’s motion offense of the course of the MIAA matchup. The PSU women held Southern (11-6, 5-6 MIAA) to 33 percent shooting for the game, forcing the Lions into 20 total turnovers.
“Today’s game was all about switching defenses to a zone,” Pitt State head coach Lane Lord said. “We haven’t played zone here in probably eight years ... It feels good when you put in the game plan and the kids execute it and get rewarded for it.”
The zone defense paid huge dividends for the Gorilla offense as well, scoring 20 points off the turnovers.
The Lions and Gorillas traded baskets to start the third quarter before PSU used a 14-0 run to take a firm grasp of the game’s momentum.
“We’ve struggled with that this year, coming out of the half strong,” Pitt State forward Kylie Gafford said. “To be able to take it to them right off the bat, while continuing to stop them on defense really helped us to build that lead and hold onto it.”
Forward Cathy Brugman knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers to start the run and jumpstart the Pitt State scoring, pushing the PSU lead to double digits for the first time in the game, 32-22.
Brugman finished the game with 11 points.
Gafford — who finished the game with 11 points and three blocks — went to work in the paint for the Gorillas, attacking the bucket for a pair of scores to put Pitt State up 14.
Burgess — a second-year guard — finished out the run with four straight points, using an old-fashioned three-point play followed by another free throw at the 4:51 mark give the PSU women an 18-point lead, 40-22.
Burgess led all scorers with 21 points on 6-of-12 shooting, making three of her four shots from 3-point range.
The Gorilla lead moved to 20 points over the Lions when freshman Shelby Lopez hit a step-back jumper and followed it up with a 3-pointer from the wing on the next PSU possession to make the score 47-27 with 48 seconds left in the third period.
While the Gorillas’ offense sprang to life, the defense continued to dominate by holding Southern to 2-for-11 shooting in the third period, forcing the Lions into five turnovers.
The offensive success in the third quarter built the PSU confidence up for the final 10 minutes. The Gorilla women kept the pedal to the floor by staying aggressive in the last quarter. Pitt State shot 76 percent in the second half as a team.
The Gorilla's lead surpassed 20 several times, and peaked at 27 points when Brugman was mugged on a converted fast-break layup for a three-point play and Paige Imhoff added a layup to make the score 68-39 with less than three minutes to play.
“I think the way games have gone for us this season — we’ve had a lot of tight games — there wasn’t any letting up on our end,” Burgess said. “That’s just our mentality as a team with the games that we’ve been in this season.”
Though PSU held the lead for majority of the opening two quarters, it was a struggle for the Pitt State women offensively in the first half. Shooting just 32 percent from the floor, the Gorillas failed to pull away from Missouri Southern with several opportunities, particularly just before going into the half with a 24-18 lead.
“We had some chances to get the lead to double digits before the half,” Lord said. “We talked about how big the first five minutes of the second half would be.”
Deb Holcomb led the Lions in scoring with 18 points on 8-of-18 shooting.
Sharese Jones had 15 points and eight rebounds in the MSSU loss.
Pitt State hits the road for a pair of games, the first coming at 5:30 p.m. on Jan. 21 at Lindenwood against the Lions.
Lucas Davis is the sports editor of the Pittsburg Morning Sun. E-mail him at email@example.com and follow him on twitter at @LDsportswriter.