PITTSBURG — If the New Year’s resolution for the Pittsburg boys’ basketball team was to start 2016 off on a high note, they succeeded.
The Purple Dragons (1-4) battled their way to their first win of the season, beating Joplin 58-54 in a home matchup Monday on the back a 28-point night from senior forward Dylan Untereker.
"It feels really good," Pittsburg head coach Kiley Roelfs said. "We would have been really disappointed if we hadn't played very well tonight because we had a break filled with great practices. It was good to reinforce that week's worth of work that we did with this win."
Untereker — who looked as healthy on the court as he has all year after battling turf toe in the early goings this season — was a menace in the rebounding department against the Eagles, pulling down boards on the offensive and defensive end to finish the night with a double-double.
"The big change was that we had [Untereker] on the floor for about 30 minutes," Roelfs said. "He had a good break and was able to get his rhythm back. He wasn't trying to press things, he was just a basketball player tonight. That made a big difference."
The Dragons held a halftime lead, but found themselves trailing early in the third quarter. PHS never wavered and regained the advantage by the end of the third. Pittsburg fought off several attempts by the Eagles in the final eight minutes on the way to the win.
“We were very resilient tonight. We kept competing to fight our way back," Roelfs said. "We made stops on the defensive end and came back to make shots on the offensive end. We kept it simple. We stressed to them about keeping it simple and doing your job."
Pittsburg came into the matchup with the Eagles with an 0-4 record, but that hardly resembles the type of play the Purple Dragons have put forth this season. PHS has lost by a combined total of 12 points in four games, with the losing margin no greater than four points in any contest.
The first win of the season for the Purple Dragons didn’t come easy, however. The matchup with the Eagles fit the mold of every contest PHS has been a part of this year. Pittsburg found themselves facing an uphill battle down by six early in the third quarter after holding a halftime lead.
The Purple Dragons were able to tie the game up at 34-all on a pair of free throws from senor forward Untereker after he was fouled on a shot underneath.
A pair of 3-pointers — one each from Jerek Butcher in the corner and Elijah Harris from the top of the key — put Pittsburg up four, 40-36, with 1:19 to play in the third period.
Harris finished the night with nine points as the second-leading scorer for the Purple Dragons.
Things got tight in the final quarter, as Joplin managed to tie the game back up several times, the first time coming midway through the quarter when Dineji Olaniyan knocked down a 3-pointer from the corner to make the score 48-48.
A basket eight feet away by the Eagles with 1:16 on the clock again tied the game up, this time at 52-all.
Olaniyan had 15 points in the loss for Joplin.
Untereker came through big once more for Pittsburg, scoring on a drop-step post move from the left block while drawing the foul. He sank the and-one free throw to convert the old fashioned three-point play, giving Pittsburg a 55-52 lead and all of the momentum.
Harris grabbed a Joplin miss at the other end and was fouled immediately. He sank the pair of crucial free throws to give PHS a two-possession lead, 57-52, with 23 seconds on the clock.
Another Eagles’ empty possession resulted in a free throw at the other end by Untereker to seal the win.
Pittsburg continues their climb back to .500 when they travel to Parsons Tuesday in a Southeast Kansas League matchup.
Lucas Davis is the sports editor of the Pittsburg Morning Sun. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on twitter at @LDsportswriter.