By Ryan Atkinson
Globe Sports Writer
PITTSBURG, Kan. —
Pittsburg State’s furious comeback wasn’t enough to overcome a dismal night at the foul line and Brittany Griswold’s unlikely 3-point daggers.
The Gorillas stormed back from an 18-point deficit to take the lead in the final minutes before Griswold drained back-to-back 3-pointers in the final 53 seconds to lift Missouri Western to a 71-67 win Tuesday night in the first round of the MIAA Postseason Tournament at John Lance Arena.
“We dug the big hole and to our kids’ credit, we showed a lot of character and a lot of courage and came all the way back,” Pitt State coach Lane Lord said. “They come down and just hit three big-time shots in a row. Griswold played the game of her career.”
The loss ends Pitt State’s season at 17-10, a disappointing campaign after reaching the NCAA Division II Elite Eight a year ago.
“It’s been a crazy year. Lots of ups and downs,” Lord said. “I’m proud of our kids. It’s a little different song from last year, that’s for sure. It’s disappointing, but that’s why you play the game.”
Pitt State trailed by 18 in the first half and by 13 with 9:32 left before rallying on the shoulders of Lizzy Jeronimus, who scored a game-high 25 points, including 10 in a 14-1 rally that knotted the game at 58.
The Gorillas took their first lead of the game on Jeronimus’ layup with 1:33 remaining, but Heather Howard’s jumper tied it at 62 just 22 seconds later.
Y’Cedria Devers put the Gorillas back up two with a pair of foul shots but Griswold sank a trey with 53 seconds left to put the Griffons up 65-64.
Brigit Hesser hit one free throw to tie the game at 65 just two seconds later before Griswold nailed a long 3-pointer with just two seconds left on the game clock and just 24 seconds left in the game to give the Griffons a 68-65 lead.
Lanicia Lawrence’s steal of Jeronimus then all but sealed the win.
Griswold entered the night having shot just 8-for-31 from 3-point range on the season. She finished the night 5-for-11 for a team-high 19 points.
“We knew she had the ability to do it,” Lord said. “We had a hand in her face there at the end both times. But she had a career night. Players make plays and she made two huge plays.”
The Gorillas build their 18-point first-half deficit with a fair share of bricks from the free throw line.
Pitt State went 13-of-26 from the foul line in the first 20 minutes and finished just 21-of-38.
Jeronimus, a sophomore, scored the first seven points of the game for Pitt State, eclipsing the 1,000-point barrier with her three-point play five minutes in.
That bucket ignited a 10-run that nearly erased a 15-4 deficit before the Griffons went hot from 3-point range, sinking three treys in a 15-1 run that eventually led to a 40-22 lead.
Jeronimus again sparked the Gorillas in the second half.
“I knew I needed to step up,” she said. “Coach Lord said he always believed in me so I needed to believe in myself and know I could do it. I tried to put our team on my back, but I didn’t do enough.”
The 10th-seeded Griffons advance to Kansas City to face second-seeded Central Missouri on Friday.
The Gorillas now pack up and look to next year. Seniors Lauren Brown, Lisa Elmer and Drew Roberts wrapped up their Pitt State careers on Tuesday.
“We had a lot of highlights and I’m so blessed to have played with these girls,” said Brown, who scored 11 points and grabbed eight rebounds. “It just sucks that it had to end this way.”