Comeback falls short, 82-80

Michael Bauer | sports editor

The Gorilla men’s basketball team is making a habit of leaving things late in the game. Unfortunately, they’re ending up on the wrong side of the score sheet.
With recent losses, by three against Washburn and a surrendered second half lead vs. Emporia State, the Gorillas’ woes continued in a loss, 80-82, to the Nebraska-Kearney Lopers on Wednesday, Jan. 22, at John Lance Arena.

Forward Josiah Gustafson dunks the ball against Nebrask-Kearney Wed. Jan. 22nd

Forward Josiah Gustafson dunks the ball against Nebrask-Kearney Wed. Jan. 22nd

Junior Devon Branch led the Gorillas with 20 points and was 6-13 on field goals while shooting 7-8 from the free throw line.
A questionable goal tending foul on UNK’s Connor Beranek, while Branch’s game-tying shot went behind the backboard as time expired, made things bitter for the Gorillas.
They now find themselves sitting with a 6-10 overall record and 2-7 in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletic Association (MIAA).
“Towards the end of the game, we started to trap a lot,” Branch said. “We were able to get steals, points and 3-pointers.”
It may have been a close finish, but the Gorillas’ late 4-0 run was not enough. Pitt State spent the majority of the game playing catch-up as the Lopers shot 64 percent in the first half to take a 40-36 halftime lead.
“We didn’t come out with fire, but the fact that we came back says that we got each other’s backs on the team,” Branch said. “We need to come out strong in the first five minutes of the game.”
Branch and his teammates may have found some silver lining in the loss, but head coach Kevin Muff was left feeling disgusted.
“We’re not good enough defensively. If things don’t change there, then we’re beating our heads against the wall,” Muff said.
What bothered Muff the most were the turnovers and missed shots. The Gorillas had 13 turnovers along with their 50.9 percent shooting percentage.
“We missed some big 3’s and the turnovers we gave just blow my mind,” Muff said. “Those types of plays squash any momentum.”
Scoring his 18th point of the night, Ethan Brozek jump-started the Lopers into the second half. Davion Pearson followed it up with a 3-pointer.
Brozek would lead the Lopers with 22 points, while Beranek had 21 points; Mike Dentlinger finished with 19.
A missed 3-pointer by UNK was not complemented by the Gorillas as junior Devon Branch missed a layup. The repercussion would be a Beranek 3-pointer; UNK went ahead by eight.
The Pitt State defense continued to help out, with Bullard blocking a Dentlinger jumper, but the Gorillas could not make lemons of the situation on offense.
A blocked layup by Bullard led to a layup and free throw by Kjer. Pitt State closed to within two.
But again, the Lopers found a response with a 3-point basket and consecutive free throws by Dentlinger.
Tyler Shields gave the Lopers a 6-point advantage with a 3-pointer with 5:41 remaining.
A 3-pointer by senior Terrell Eaddy closed the gap to within two with 26 seconds remaining. After the Gorillas won the ball back on a jump ball, PSU could not find the basket as time ran out.
The victory improves the Lopers’ record to 7-10 overall and 4-7 in the conference. The victory also ended a two-game losing skid for UNK.
As the Gorillas now turn their attention to Saturday’s home contest against Fort Hays State (14-3, 6-3) Muff says another attribute that was missing was emotion.
“I would like to see more emotion. We need to start investing some energy early on and we don’t have that right now,” Muff said.

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