By Ryan Atkinson
Globe Sports Writer
KANSAS CITY, Mo. —
In a rough-and-tumble game of runs, Central Missouri’s high-pressure defense and a handful of ill-advised Pittsburg State passes made all the difference.
Pitt State’s back-to-back-to-back bad passes led to breakaway points in a key second-half run and another led to Charles Hammock’s breakaway dunk that all but iced Central Missouri’s 69-63 win over the Gorillas in the men's quarterfinals of the MIAA Championships on Thursday night at Municipal Auditorium.
“It was a game of runs, it really was. We ended up on the short end of it,” Pitt State coach Kevin Muff said. “Give them a lot of credit. They deserved it tonight. They outplayed us, but I was very proud of my team and the way we competed.”
The Gorillas end their season at 18-10 — an improvement over last year’s 17-14 campaign that ended in the title game of the MIAA Championships.
UCM advances to Saturday’s semifinals, where the Mules will face the winner of Washburn and Central Oklahoma.
Neither team could expand on first half leads — UCM led by eight early and Pitt State had a five-point lead late — and the Gorillas held a 44-42 lead after Kaleb Porter’s 3-pointer with 11:49 to play.
But Central got a jumper from Matt Webb and a trey from Ryan Magdziarz before the Gorillas committed three consecutive turnovers. All three were bad passes near midcourt and all three led to breakaway points and a 53-44 Mule lead.
“Coach always tells us to play hard defense and it will turn into offense and we try to stick to that,” said Hammock, who had a steal and a dunk in that stretch. “We stuck to the game plan like we did in practice and it carried over into the game.”
Pitt State’s deficit twice grew to 10 points, the second time coming after Dominique Long’s 3-pointer made it 59-49 with 7:29 to play.
But the Gorillas answered.
Pitt State forced shots early in UCM’s offensive sets and scored the next eight points to pull within two at the 5:09 mark.
The Gorillas still trailed by just two — 63-61 — and had the ball after a timeout with 1:36 remaining, but yet another pass was stolen near midcourt by Hammock, who raced ahead for a two-handed jam that all but ended the game.
“We fought back and battled back, but you can’t give a good team like Central those opportunities,” Muff said. “We kind of hurt ourselves in that respect.”
The Gorillas shot just 36 percent from the field for the night and was just 1-for-9 from beyond the arc in the second half.
“I didn’t think our offensive clicked, but a lot of that had to do with Central Missouri’s aggressiveness and making us have to start our offensive further out on the floor,” Muff said. “They really got in the driving lanes and passing lanes and made it very difficult for us. That’s the most pressure we’ve seen by a team this year.”
Senior JaVon McGee led Pitt State with 22 points and 11 rebounds, an impressive finale after the 6-foot-6 forward battled back from a separated shoulder in late January.
McGee is one of three Gorillas who wrapped up their careers on Thursday and he is the lone holdover from Gene Iba’s tenure as Pitt State coach.
“It’s a blessing to even be playing right now. Everybody knows I’ve had my share of injuries this year,” McGee said. “Coach Muff has been working with me every since he got here and my teammates allowed me to play with them. It’s a blessing.
“I don’t have any regrets. My team doesn’t have any regrets. We gave it the best shot we could. I wish we would have made some plays here and there, but congratulations to Central Missouri. They did what they had to do and we just came up a little short.”
Senior A.J. Adams and freshmen Jake Bullard and Kaleb Port each added 11 points for the Gorillas.
Bullard also had seven rebounds and a pair of steals in the rough contest.
“It was a very physical game. We knew it was going to be,” he said. “We try to use our physicality to our favor and they were just as physical.”
Webb, who averaged just over eight points a game in the regular season, scored 15 for the Mules. Alex Dean and Widgett Washington each added 12.