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4th-quarter free throws send Gorillas past Lions

Mar. 8—Missouri Southern was hot out of the gate Friday afternoon in the Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, Missouri. Pittsburg State kept it close and outlasted MSSU on 11-of-12 free throw shooting in the fourth quarter to claim a 73-65 win in the quarterfinal round of the MIAA conference tournament.

"It's too bad somebody had to lose, but that was just an epic battle," PSU head coach Amanda Davied said.

An epic battle it was. Southern (20-9) jumped out to a 12-4 advantage, but Pittsburg (22-7) fought back to make it an 18-16 difference at the end of the first quarter.

The score wasn't separated by more than 5 points until Grace Pyle knocked down a deep stepback 3-pointer to give the Gorillas a 66-60 advantage with 1:34 left. That forced the Lions to foul, and 7 of 8 charities went through for PSU to seal the win.

"Give Pitt credit, they made some plays down the stretch. And of course made their free throws," MSSU head coach Ronnie Ressel said.

PSU hadn't won an MIAA tournament game since 2018 and had lost six conference tournament games in a row. This was a key win for the program, especially against its conference rival.

"I think anytime you get a win over a rival, it's a good momentum win," PSU junior Grace Pyle said. "And I think you can build off of it because of how high-energy those games are."

"We have some really loyal fans that have been coming up here supporting us over and over and over," Davied said. "The biggest thing is it literally took the monkey off the back. We finally broke that stretch of not getting that first win. We appreciate all of the fan support and all the support for our girls. I think this is definitely one for the fans to enjoy too."

Pyle and the Gorillas will look to use the win as momentum as they meet top-seeded Missouri Western at noon Saturday.

Strength of schedule

The Lions will take their 20-win season and NCAA-best strength of schedule and hope those are enough to get them into the NCAA Division II tournament.

"We were fourth this past week, our strength of schedule is No. 1 in the country. ... I think our resume is pretty good. If this was Division I, I would say we're in no doubt," Ressel said. "Division II is a whole different story."

Missouri Southern benefited from a Pittsburg State turnover with 13 seconds left in the first half and came down floor and got a layup from MIAA Freshman of the Year Ryan Franklin to tie the game at 32 heading into halftime.

Pyle got the scoring started in the second half with a floater in the lane to make it 34-32. Those were the first of Pyle's 12 second-half points as she made some key baskets in the second half.

"Just wanting the ball and being more aggressive I think is what my team needed from me," Pyle said. "Coach Davied put the ball in my hands and said, 'Go to work.'"

The third quarter was back-and-forth as MSSU answered every PSU score early in the period. The Lions took the lead on a 3-point basket from Maggie Sockey to make it 39-38.

But the Gorillas answered when Pyle made a layup at the five-minute mark to make it 40-39. She was fouled on the layup but missed the free throw. PSU was 0 for 2 on charities at that point.

Karenna Gerber buried a midrange shot to make it 42-39, giving PSU the game's largest advantage of the third stanza.

But Mira Khan caught a pass at the top of the key with all kinds of separation and drilled a triple to tie the game with 2:46 remaining in the third. After nearly two minutes had passed, Brandi Hudson got the lead back for the Lions on a layup with 58 seconds on the clock.

PSU's Alba Lozano Davila tied the game at 44 with a jump shot from the free throw line and the quarter ended with that score.

Gerber started the fourth with a basket and a foul and made good on her and-1 free throw. That was PSU's first made shot from the foul line all game.

The seesaw affair continued, and Hudson gave MSSU a lead on a tough scoop layup across the lane to make it 50-49 with 8:05 left to play. Hudson made good on a couple of those scoop layups and talked about some of her creativity down low.

"I'm obviously undersized, so I know I'm going against bigger kids and they tend to block my shot a lot, so I'm trying to be as crafty as I can to get open and get the best percentage to make the shot," Hudson said.

She drew a foul on the next possession and made both free shots to give MSSU a 52-49 advantage at the 7:14 mark.

PSU answered by scoring 5 straight points on a Jenna Shipley 3-pointer and a layup from freshman Macie Mays to go up 54-52.

The two teams traded baskets all the way until there was 2:33 remaining as Kaitlin Hunnicutt made a left-handed layup after getting by her defender to make it 60-60.

That's when Pyle got 6 in a row by herself. She got past her defender and was fouled by Hudson trying to cut her off at the rim. Pyle made the basket and free throw to make it 63-60. After the Gorillas got a stop, Pyle hit the stepback trey after coming around a screen to give the necessary cushion to earn the win.

Pyle finished with 17 points, and most of them came in the second half. Ressel talked about limiting her most of the game.

"We made them work to get some shots, and they made tough shots," he said.

Southern trailed 66-62 with one minute to play and got a steal. Kryslyn Jones found herself open in the corner for a 3-pointer, but it rimmed out and forced the Lions to have to foul the rest of the game. If that shot falls, they could have played for a stop and a score instead.

"We had some good looks that didn't go in. That's basketball," Ressel said.

Mays also finished with 17 points to tie Pyle for the game high. Joining the duo in double figures were Shipley (14), Gerber (11) and Harper Schreiner (10).

MSSU was led by Hudson and Jones' 15 apiece, while Sockey and Franklin added 10 each.