By Ryan Atkinson
Globe Sports Writer
PITTSBURG, Kan. —
The young, injury-riddled Pittsburg State Gorillas learned a valuable, and quite painful, lesson on MIAA basketball on Saturday.
No lead is safe.
The Gorillas led by 22 points with 12 minutes remaining — and still led by nine with 3:30 left — before the Southwest Baptist Bearcats rallied for an improbable 81-75 win at John Lance Arena.
“We’re very fortunate to win the game, no question,” Southwest Baptist coach Jeff Guiot said. “(Pitt State) played really well until about 10 minutes left and then our last 10 minutes were exceptional.”
As if the loss wasn’t painful enough for Pitt State (14-7, 7-6 MIAA), it wiped out a prime opportunity for the Gorillas to climb into the coveted top-four of the league standings.
“It was an opportunity that we had in our hands to put ourselves in a better position conference-race wise, overall season-record wise and we didn’t capitalize on it,” Pitt State coach Kevin Muff said. “It’s very difficult to play well for 30 minutes and control things and then, when a team finds a weakness ... not being able to adjust to that.
“You work 30 minutes to get a lead, and then you give it away in 10 minutes when you worked so hard to get it. There’s a lack of leadership — on my part, too, as a coach —to not get somebody in a position to step up and find a way to make it happen.”
The Gorillas led by nine at the half and then looked unstoppable to start the second half, building a 60-38 lead with 12:33 remaining.
But SBU (8-12, 5-7) began to apply full-court pressure and slowly began chipping away at the lead.
Rasha Peterson-Brown’s 3-pointer at the 7:20 mark cut the Gorilla lead to 13 and his layup with 5:09 remaining got it down to eight.
The Gorillas led 74-65 after Sam Pugh’s layup with 3:35 remaining, but that’s when SBU all but exploded.
Brown-Peterson hit another trey — the Bearcats had 10 on the day to Pitt State’s one — and Damion Hooks’ layup cut it to 74-70 with 2:44 remaining.
Nearly a minute later, Brown-Peterson hit the third of his three treys to cut it to 74-73 before Marky Nolen’s errant inbounds pass was intercepted by Preston Guiot, who immediately swished a jumper to give the Bearcats a 75-74 lead — their first since the 6:35 mark of the first half.
“The press kind of got us in a little rhythm,” Coach Guiot said. “They struggled with it and we kind of sped them up. In baseball if you throw the same pitch every time they start hitting it. So we mixed it up.
“It helped us offensively maybe even more than it did defensively. It got us going offensively.”
The Gorillas made just one shot — a free throw — the rest of the way. And even in the rare occasions when the Bearcats misfired — as they did on two straight free throws with a 77-75 lead with 14 seconds remaining —they got the offensive board.
Pitt State — already without starters JaVon McGee and Courtney Ingram — had to play the final six minutes without Rico Pierrevilus, who picked up his fourth and fifth fouls just 24 seconds apart, with the Gorillas still up 13.
“We needed Rico at the end of the game,” Muff said. “That’s my fault. With four fouls maybe I shouldn’t have had him in. That disrupted us a little. We needed him in there late.”
The Gorillas were just 1-for-11 from 3-point range and struggled to hit a big, tide-turning shot.
“We’ve struggled with pack defenses where they just back off and dare you to shoot it,” Muff said. “We don’t have anybody right now who can make a 3 anyway. The last four or five games we just haven’t been very good from behind the arc.”