The Pittsburg State University’s men’s basketball team (13-11) went into their game last night against the No. 18 Fort Hays State Tigers in a “win and in” situation to clinch a post-season berth, but they would not get it. The Gorillas fell to the Tigers by a final score of 70 to 63, and it was the final home game of the season for Muff’s squad. But, even with the loss, the Gorillas will have another chance to clinch a post-season slot once again this weekend on the road at University of Nebraska Omaha.
Last night’s game also served as senior night for the Gorillas, with the lone senior Andy Smith sidelined with a leg injury for the remainder of the regular season. Regardless, Smith received a warm round of applause from the Pitt State faithful before tip-off.
After winning the tip, Hays immediately found their big man, Ken Bowman, for the lay-up, but with help from Eric Ray’s five points, the Gorillas scored the next seven points. Eric Marshal for Pitt State and Ken Bowman for Hays found themselves in early trouble with two apiece with only a few minutes gone in the first half.
Bowman was inserted into the game and his ensuing five points sparked the tigers to their first lead since the beginning of the game at 17-16. The Tigers never looked back from there. The Tigers seemed to gain all the momentum at this point.
“Honestly, I think they became more aggressive than us,” Ray said. “We weren’t able to adjust.”
Junior Logan Jones hit a three-point jumper with 43 seconds left in the first half to pull the Gorillas within two, but committed the personal foul on the other end with six seconds left and put junior Matt Simmons at the free-throw line. Simmons was unable to make either shot, but a loose-ball foul by Ray put junior Moses Dayee at the line, who was able to make both his shots. The half ended with a score of 35 to 31 in the Tiger’s favor. On-ball screens were a big part of Fort Hays’ offensive game plan, using their bigs to roll and create mismatches, some of which Pitt State tried to avoid.
“We wanted them to fight through on-ball screens,” Coach Kevin Muff said. “Fort Hays is very good at them.”
Ray had the hot hand in the first half for Pitt State score 14 of the Gorilla’s 31 points while handling the point and committing only one turnover. Bowman led the Tigers with 11 points and grabbed five rebounds.
Both teams came after half playing a more physical game. The Tigers continued to work the ball inside while making Pitt State take shots from the paint. After a scoreless period of over two minutes both teams seemed to find a little more rhythm on offense. Marshall came out hot, scoring the first seven of Pitt State’s second half points making the score 41 to 38 Hays with five minutes gone in the half.
The Tigers jumped out to their biggest lead of the game with a score of 56 to 46 at the 9:24 mark after two made free-throws by Senior, Corbin Kuntzsch. The second half continued to be physical and both teams found themselves in the bonus by the six-minute mark.
Pitt State broke a two and a half minute scoring drought for both with a lay-up by junior Chris Ware with 1:45 left in the game, making the score 56 to 63 Tigers. Junior Drake Green seemed to breath some life into the Gorillas by pulling them within two with a three-pointer. Unfortunately for the Gorillas, Dayee answered with a three of his own. This was the dagger to the heart, with only 29 seconds left, Pitt State needed five points that would be hard to come by with the physical defense of the Tigers.
Pitt State was unable to score again and the game ended with a score of 70 to 63 with the Gorillas on the losing end.
This past Saturday, Pitt State lost at home versus the 17-7 Washburn Ichabods, 72 to 68. That game brought their season record to 13-11 overall with a 9-11 record in conference play. The loss also put the Gorillas in a tie with Missouri Western State for seventh place.
Pitt State junior Eric Ray led the team with 17 points and three rebounds. Senior Logan Stutz led the Ichabods with 17 points and four assists and Senior De’Andre Washington chipped in 16 points.
Despite four of the five Pitt State starters reaching double digits and shooting better in all categories the Gorillas weren’t able to pull out the victory. With six and a half minutes left in the game, the Ichabods took the lead and held it until the final buzzer sounded.
The 13-12 Gorillas will head to Omaha to face the 17-8 Mavericks on Saturday, who are coming off of a loss to Missouri Southern State. Ray seems ready to take this challenge.
“It’s a big game,” Ray said. “We need to win this game to put ourselves in the tournament.”
A win in this game would ensure a post-season berth and could give the Gorillas momentum going into the conference tournament. Though Muff doesn’t want to stop there.
“I want to finish with a trip to Kansas City,” Muff said.
The Gorillas will be back in action this weekend to take on the UNO Mavericks on the road, and a win will make that trip to the MIAA Tourney more likely.