PITTSBURG — The Pittsburg State men’s basketball team earned a much-needed bounce-back win over Missouri Western Wednesday, beating the Griffons 95-73 at John Lance Arena.
The Gorilla men pulled out to a double-digit lead late in the first half and continued to press the issue in the second half. PSU's advantage stretched to more than 20 points several times in the final 20 minutes, holding off the Griffons down the stretch to cruise on to victory.
“We're playing better. We are taking steps towards playing our best basketball of the year, and that's the best that you could ask for," Pitt State head coach Kevin Muff said. "I thought this was probably the best team effort that we've had all year … I am not trying to take anything away from Missouri Western, but we played pretty good tonight."
Pitt State (11-9, 6-8 MIAA) and Missouri Western (6-14, 4-10 MIAA) battled back and forth through three quarters of the opening half before a 14-2 run in the final five minutes before the intermission gave PSU the momentum. A 7-0 run in the opening five minutes of the second half put the Gorilla men up 21 points, 58-37, giving the team a nice cushion to play with over the remaining 15 minutes.
“We talked about coming out at halftime and not letting them make a run to get back in the game," Pitt State senior Josiah Gustafson said. "It was good to go up big early in the second half. We relaxed a little but, but we were able to put it away."
Pitt State had four players score in double figures in the conference win.
Josiah Gustafson had a team-high 24 points for Pitt State, having a huge first with 15 points.
Denton Hays finished with the game's only double-double, putting up 21 points and grabbing 12 boards, five of which came on the offensive end.
Trey Starks had 23 points, while Dakota Jones finished with 12.
Javis Flynn led the team in assists with four, and steals with three. He added four rebounds and three points for the Gorillas as well.
Pitt State has won four of their last six games on the season.
The game-changing run at the end of the first half was thanks in large part to the scoring of Hays and Starks. Hays finished with six points and Starks had seven. The pair knocked down seven total free throws in that span.
The Griffons cut the lead down to 10 points, 69-59, near the six-minute mark after outscoring Pitt State 18-7 over a span of less than seven minutes of game action.
"It was really big [minimizing their run]," Hays said. "If they score six points, we want to answer back with a run of our own."
A barrage of 3-pointers from Missouri Western sparked their attempt to get back in the ball game. Cole Clearman and Trey Simpson each had a pair of triples, with Aaron Emmanuel adding two scores in the paint to help lead the charge.
The Gorillas answered with a 12-5 run to regain the momentum, raising their lead back up to 17 points, 81-64, with 3:27 to play.
Seven unanswered points inside of the final three minutes of the game — highlighted by a Gustafson 3-pointer from the corner which touched nothing but nylon — sealed the win for Pitt State.
Pitt State's Lucas Wilson saw his first action of the season and left his mark on the game in the process. He drew a pair of charging calls on Missouri Western and finished with four rebounds and two points in six minutes of play.
"When you talk about catalysts, you have to talk about Lucas Wilson," Gustafson said. "A redshirt freshman comes in during the first half and gets two charges and grabs all those rebounds. He was absolutely huge for us and he deserves that. He's worked as hard as anybody."
Pittsburg State is in action against Northwest Missouri following the women’s game Saturday at John Lance Arena.
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.