PITTSBURG — The Pittsburg State women’s basketball team had their hands full Saturday against Northwest Missouri State at John Lance Arena.
The Gorilla women trailed 12 points heading into the final period in need of any kind of shot of life to get momentum. Pitt State tightened up on defense and used a 13-2 run over the first six minutes of the fourth to get the Bearcat lead down to one point, 59-58. Sophomore guard Mikaela Burgess came up big for the Gorillas down the stretch, scoring 13 fourth-quarter points to lead the charge in Pitt State’s 74-66 come-from-behind win against the Bearcats.
“It was just an unbelievable finish to the game that we really struggled in," Pitt State head coach lane Lord said. "You've got to give a lot of credit to Northwest … We were very fortunate tonight to come out on top. Our fourth quarter was awesome."
The final five minutes of the game was a dogfight, with the Gorillas tying the game up at 64-all with 3:52 to play on back-to-back 3-pointers from Burgess, her first long-range makes of the game.
“Once she gets going, she is like a microwave. She can heat up in a hurry, and she certainly did," Lord said. "She is a gamer and she's a competitor. She wants the ball in her hands at the end of the game."
Pitt State took their first lead of the game on a pair of free throws from Kylie Gafford moments later to make the score 66-64. It was PSU’s first lead since the score was 10-9 with 4:38 to play in the first.
Gafford had 16 points and tied with Haydn Herlocker for the team lead in rebounds with seven. Herlocker finished the game with a double-double, scoring 12 points and dishing out 10 assists for Pitt State.
Burgess split a pair of NWMS defenders for a left-handed layup with 2:42 to play to push the PSU lead to four points, 68-64.
Her dominance in the fourth quarter continued on the next Gorilla possession when she scored on a scoop layup from the right side, drawing the foul for a chance at a three-point play. The and-one free throw was good to put Pitt State up 71-64 with 1:39 to play.
The Gorillas got free throws from Burgess and Paige Lungwitz down the stretch to ice the win.
PSU outscored NWMS 29-9 in the final 10 minutes of the game.
Pitt State (17-4, 11-4 MIAA) forced the Bearcats into six turnovers in the fourth quarter, using the press defense to jumpstart the run on offense.
"[Not only did it put momentum back in our favor], it gave us emotion," Lord said. "You could see it on our faces. We were hitting big shots again like we usually do. They were having fun in that fourth quarter."
The Gorilla women entered the game with the Bearcats three days after their biggest win of the season, beating No. 6 Missouri Western 83-80 on Wednesday. An emotional win like that can have a lingering hangover effect, which seemed to be the case for PSU.
Coach Lord admittedly was worried about his team having a little bit of a let down heading into this game.
“It doesn't matter how much you say it, it's just human nature," he said. "Cathy [Brugman], Kylie [Gafford] and Mikaela [Burgess] came to play in the fourth quarter. From down 15 to up 10 there at the end is a big-time turnaround. It all started with the defensive pressure."
Northwest Missouri (3-18, 1-14 MIAA) found much of their success on offense thanks to 18 assists, a season's best.
Tember Schechinger was the game’s leading scoring, finishing with 24 points to lead the Bearcat charge.
NWMS' lead in the second half reached as high as 15 points with 29 seconds left in the third period following a of 3-pointer from Tanya Meyer. Meyer finished the game with 15 points in the contest.
Shelby Lopez — who scored six points in the win — answered with a 3-pointer for the Gorillas at the other end with less than 10 seconds on the clock to send PSU into the final quarter down 12.
Pitt State had trouble defending Meyer — NWMS’ second-leading scorer at 10.2 PPG — in the opening period. She had 10 first-quarter points on a pair of 3-pointers, with much of her success coming off the ball screen to build her confidence early.
Pitt State’s problems with defending the Bearcats on the perimeter continued throughout the first half as Northwest Missouri made 6-of-13 shots from long range to send them into the half with a 36-31 lead.
“Really what everybody is going to this year is that continuous ball-screen action," Lord said. "I think we guarded it five different ways and I don't know if any of them worked real well. The only thing that worked for us defensively was when we pressed at the end there and that got us back in the game."
The Bearcats came into the game averaging 55 points per game and shooting 41 percent from the field. Their 66 points Saturday came on 48 percent shooting, as they made 26 of their 54 attempts.
AROUND THE MIAA
Saturday saw a shakeup in the MIAA Standings as the Gorilla women moved up to third in the conference following an Emporia State 61-51 loss at Central Missouri.
The Gorilla women hit the road for a matchup with Washburn at 5:30 p.m. on Feb. 3 at Lee Arena in Topeka.
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.