By Ryan Atkinson
Globe Sports Writer
After Pittsburg State rolled to an impressive 30-point win over Northeastern State on Feb. 16, coach Kevin Muff said it was a glimpse of what kind of team his Gorillas could be.
“It’s the team we want to be,” he said then. “Can we be on a consistent basis? We haven’t proven that yet, but I think we have the potential to be.”
Muff and the Gorillas hope that now, with everything on the line, they’re in the midst of proving it.
The seventh-seeded Gorillas face No. 2 Central Missouri today at 6 p.m. in the quarterfinals of the MIAA Postseason Tournament at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, Mo.
“It’s an opportunity for us to take another step toward our ultimate goal and get into the national tournament,” Muff said. “For us, it’s one game at a time and we’re not looking ahead. That’s how we’ve been the last three games.”
Tonight’s game will be a rematch of Central Missouri’s 80-73 win in Warrensburg on Jan. 12. Pitt State led by five early in the second half and was tied with the Mules with 6:32 remaining before Central pulled away.
“I actually though we played pretty well up there,” Muff said. “We’re so much further ahead defensively now than what we were even a week or week and a half ago.
“I’m glad we’re playing them. I’m happy for the opportunity.”
Dominique Long leads the Mules with an average of 15.5 points per game — 15th in the MIAA. Widgett Washington scored 12 points a game and Charles Hammork averages 11.8.
“Central is going to break you down. They can drive it, they’re not like Truman where they’re going to come off 30 screens and hit a 3,” Muff said. “Containment is going to be big. Rotation is going to be big.
“Handling their athleticism is going to be key. But they’re going to have to handle our athleticism too.”
Marky Nolen, who was named the MIAA’s Defensive Player of the Year, will be key in leading the Gorillas against the Central offense.
Muff said the fiery Nolen was deserving of the award.
“Sometimes his emotions get the best of him. He’s an emotional guy,” he said. “I told the coaches when I called and nominated him, ‘I know some of you don’t like him and he’s hard to play against, but every one of you would love to have a guy like him on your team. Because he’s going to compete and you know what you’re going to get from him.’ ”
Three freshmen from northeastern Oklahoma have moved into the Pitt State starting five.
Kaleb Porter, from Tulsa’s East Central High School, averages a team-high 14.7 points per game and was an honorable mention All-MIAA selection on Monday.
Jake Bullard, from Vinita High School, scored 19 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in Monday’s opening-round win over Truman State while picking up the Pitt State defense with three steals.
Denton Hays, a Tulsa native who prepped at Jenks High, is a key defender.
“They’re growing up in a hurry,” Muff said. “Jake is giving us Marky Nolen-type plays, those hustle plays, rebounds. And whenever we need a shot, Kaleb usually knocks it down.
“Denton really brings a lot to us defensively. What Denton doesn’t give us offensively that the other guys can, he gives us defensively. So you try to mix and match them.”