With nearly a week left to prepare for the matchup with rival Missouri Southern State Saturday at John Lance Arena, both Pittsburg State basketball teams have several areas to shore up prior to tipoff.
Each Gorilla team has a chance to use their matchup with the Lions a momentum builder before heading out on the road in the for the stretch run during the second half of the MIAA season.
Ironing Out the Details
The Pitt State (12-4, 6-4 MIAA) women head into the matchup with Southern (11-5, 5-5 MIAA) having lost three of their previous six games, two of which came on their home court.
Things started off uneasy for the Gorillas against Southwest Baptist on Saturday, but a thrilling second half led to an overtime victory to get the women back on track.
Pitt State had a big game from Haydn Herlocker, who scored a career-high 17 points to go along with five assists, something assistant coach Amanda Davied said will be expected for the remainder of the season.
“We’ve kind of been asking more of her [and Paige Lungwitz] lately,” Davied said. “[Saturday’s game] will hopefully give her that confidence for it to continue.”
The Gorilla women have three players scoring in double figures, with sophomore guard Mikaela Burgess leading the way at 16 points per game.
She is shooting 40 percent from the field, while knocking down a team-high 44 3-point field goals. Burgess is tied for the team lead in steals with 17 total.
Senior swingman Cathy Brugman is putting up 14 points per game, shooting 46 percent from the field. Brugman’s 88 rebounds ranks second on the Gorillas, as does her 11 blocks.
Senior forward Kylie Gafford is scoring 13 points per contest for the Gorilla women.
Defensively, Gafford is the rock for PSU. She has the most blocks on the team at 25, and is tied with Burgess for the lead in steals with 17.
Herlocker leads the team in assists with 66, averaging more than four a game for Pitt State. She is scoring six points per contest.
Missouri Southern has a pair of players averaging more than 10 points per game, with Sharese Jones leading the way with 17.5 PPG. She is shooting 52 percent from the floor and leading the team in rebounds with 115. Her six blocks are tied for most on the team, and her 16 steals ranks her third.
Deb Holcomb is shooting 42 percent on the season, scoring 15 points per game. She leads the Lions in assists with 34 and is second in steals with 25.
Turning Things Around
The Gorilla men have lost seven of their last eight and are looking for a turning point in the season to get their year back on track.
Pitt State was in a similar position last season before winning six of their last 10 regular season games, which turned into an MIAA Tournament Championship and NCAA Tournament berth.
Head coach Kevin Muff — who has placed a lot of the team’s struggles on his shoulders — has majority of his unit from a year ago back this season, which leads him to believe this team is capable of turning the year around down the stretch of the season.
“They know what it takes,” Muff said. “[The questions is], do we have someone, as a player, who can show them the way to do that? It’s not going to come from me yelling, chastising or putting anybody down. It’s going to come from them taking responsibility for what they’re doing out on the floor ... We have a few potential leaders on this team, but too many of them want to lead by example and not enough vocally.”
Pittsburg State (8-8, 3-7 MIAA) has a trio of Gorillas averaging double-digit points per game.
Senior guard swingman Josiah Gustafson is scoring 15 points per contest to lead the team. His 34 3-pointers is the most on the team. Gustafson has 5.3 rebounds per game, another team high, and has nine steals with seven blocks.
Senior guard Trey Starks is scoring 14 points per game, providing Pitt State with a playmaker off the bench for the second unit. He is shooting 46 percent from the field and 81 percent from the free-throw line.
Sophomore guard Dakota Jones is putting up 11 points a contest for the Gorillas, knocking down 47 percent of his shots from long range. His 26 3-pointers rank second to Gustafson.
Senior forward Lamine Dieng (9.1) and senior point guard Javis Flynn (8.9) are hovering near double figures this season.
Dieng is second on the team in rebounding with 4.9 per game, while Flynn leads the Gorillas in assists with an average of 5.3 per game.
The Lions (10-6, 7-3 MIAA) have won two straight games heading into their matchup with PSU.
Missouri Southern is led in scoring by Taevaunn Prince, who is putting up 26 points a game to go along with his team high in assists with 39. Prince leads the team in steals on the defensive end with 21. He is averaging a double-double by grabbing more than 10 a game.
Charlie Brown is averaging 16 a game, while Austin Wright is scoring 12 points a clip for the Lions.
Wright holds the team high in 3-pointers made with 44, while Brown has second most with 29 total. Each player has more than 30 assists this year for Missouri Southern.
Tipoff for the women’s contest is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Saturday, with the men’s game to follow.
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.