PITTSBURG — The sharpshooting No. 12 Pittsburg State women’s basketball team continued to scorch from long range in its 84-64 win over Arkansas-Fort Smith Saturday at John Lance Arena in the Pitt State Classic.
The Gorilla women (4-0) were forced to use a small lineup after losing starting forward Elena Flott to an injury early in the first quarter. Shorthanded, Pitt State exploited Fort Smith (2-3) from the perimeter, knocking down 15 3-pointers in its second win in less than 24 hours.
“Elena is a great player, and when she went down, it kind of shook us a little bit,” Pitt State senior point guard Haydn Herlocker said. “I thought our freshmen came in and played solid. [Madison] Northcutt also went down there and played really strong at the five for us. [She] comes in and does her job every single game, and that’s what we’re looking for … I think it’s nice when one of your starters go down, you know you have someone there to pick them up.”
Pitt State shot 45 percent from the field as a team, finishing with four players in double figures.
Junior guard Mikaela Burgess led all scorers with 20 points, on 5-of-12 shooting, with four makes from long range. Burgess had one basket in the first half before exploding for 17 points in the final 20 minutes of play. She added four rebounds and three assists.
Herlocker finished an assist shy of a double-double. She had 16 points, making 4-of-7 shots from 3-point range, nine assists, seven rebounds and three steals.
“I thought Haydn was outstanding,” Pitt State head coach Lane Lord said. “She hit two or three in the corner [early] and really got us going.”
Sophomore guard Shelby Lopez came off the bench and scored 16 points, while grabbing six rebounds, and sophomore forward Madison Northcutt finished with 10 points, nine rebounds, two assists and a steal in the PSU win.
The Lions hard a pair of scorers finish in double figures, with guard Micayla Haynes leading the way with 16 points, eight rebounds, four assists and a pair of steals.
Guard Maya Perry had 10 points and six boards in the Fort Smith loss.
The Gorilla women opened the game up making four of their first five shots from beyond the arc to build a nine-point lead, 23-14, by the end of the first quarter against the Lions.
Herlocker sank a pair of triples in the opening quarter, while Paige Lungwitz — who finished with eight points, seven rebounds and six assists — and Flott also added makes from the perimeter.
“Especially in girls basketball, threes are a momentum builder,” Herlocker said. “Anytime you can hit a three early, it gets the crowd into it and it gets your bench into it. Everyone’s emotions really build.”
Herlocker sank her third triple of the game 10 seconds into the second period to give PSU its first double-digit lead of the contest, 25-14.
Four unanswered from Fort Smith cut the lead to seven, before Lungwitz ripped a 3-pointer from the corner to push the lead back to 10, 28-18, with 6:42 to play in the first half.
The 3-pointers kept raining down for the Gorilla women, as back-to-back makes from long range by Lopez and Burgess gave Pitt State a 38-22 lead.
Herlocker capped the 10-0 run with a steal near midcourt, and turned it into a run-out layup at the other end to put the Gorilla women up 40-22 with 2:18 to play in the first half.
“As a team, that kind of gave a spark for everyone else to play a little bit harder and fight through the pain,” Lopez said. “I know some of us were in there longer than we usually were, and I think having that energy — it just gave us a second wind.”
Burgess opened up the second half with a second-chance 3-pointer from the right wing to push Pitt State’s lead to 20, 48-28, for the first time in the game with less than two minutes expired in the third quarter.
Fort Smith cut the lead to 15, 60-45, on back-to-back inside scores from Jazmine Spears and Perry at the 2:17 mark.
A three-point play Haynes followed by a fast-break score from Olivia Hanson made the score 62-50 with a minute to play.
Pitt State closed out the third quarter by regaining the momentum, using a 3-pointer by Burgess and an inside score from freshman forward Athena Alvarado to head into the final period with a 67-50 advantage.
“College basketball is a game of runs, and you’ve got to be able to answer them,” Lord said. “When you can’t answer, that’s when they become big runs and that’s when you’re in trouble … We’ve got a veteran group, and they know how to respond.”
Fort Smith got five unanswered points near the midway mark of the fourth quarter to cut the Gorilla lead down to 13, 69-56, using three makes from the free-throw line and an inside score from Tayla Taylor.
Herlocker stopped the run with a 3-pointer from the left corner off the swing pass from Burgess to make the score 72-56 with 3:45 to play.
“That’s one of the things that we do have — mental toughness,” Herlocker said. “We were able to hit a few big shots and get the lead back up. It really just does come down to mental toughness. Mind over matter. You’re tired, but so are they, so you have to keep working and rely on the stuff you’ve been putting in during practice to get you through it.”
Burgess pushed the PSU lead back to 20, 77-57, with a triple from the corner in transition with less than three minutes to play in the game to essentially seal the win.
“We were all talking about it on the sideline towards the end of the game — who would have thought a 20-point lead would feel so close,” Lopez said. “I think it was a very important win for us … Everyone contributed in different ways in this game, and they played their role perfectly. That’s what helped us today, and I think we are figuring it out one game at a time.”
Pitt State is on the road for the next three games, traveling outside of continental United States to play in the Puerto Rico Challenge over Thanksgiving weekend.
The Gorilla women match up with Pontifical Catholic at 11 a.m. on Nov. 23, West Alabama at 9 a.m. on Nov. 24 and wrap up the road trip with a 1 p.m. matchup against Puerto Rico-Rio Piedras on Nov. 25 in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
“This is our last tuneup before conference [play],” Lord said. “We’ve just got to continue to polish up some things and get better each game.
“This is a neat experience. We’ve got unbelievable boosters and donors who have made this possible for our team. We don’t have the budget to do these kinds of things. It’s our community who sponsors us and comes out and makes it happen for us … We’re really excited.”
-- Lucas Davis is the sports editor of the Pittsburg Morning Sun. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on twitter @LDsportswriter.