Western (8-11, 4-7) played at the pace it wanted, but came up short in the final moments 57-56 against Pittsburg State (12-5, 5-4) in physical game at the MWSU Fieldhouse.
“I’m not going to sit here and fault the players,” Coach Tom Smith said. “We made the effort, lost by one and had complete control of the tempo best for us. I thought we did what we needed to do to keep the game slow and used our timeouts and sets.”
The Griffons had a chance to make the go-ahead basket, but a missed shot rolled nearly all the way to the other end of the court taking precious seconds off the clock. Pittsburg State tracked the ball down and went to the free throw line where Kaleb Porter missed two free-throws.
Western had one last chance with 2.5 left on the clock and down by one point, but they had to go the entire distance which wasn’t possible. Dzenan Mrkaljevic was forced to throw up a 3-point shot that was far too deep to stand a chance to at going in and the game ended.
“A lot of people like to talk about what happened throughout the game, but this came down to the last minute and a half,” Smith said. “At least three times we had a chances to come up with the rebound and give us possession back with a chance to score. Whether we would have or not, I don’t know. But it would have given us the opportunity.”
Great work on the defensive end allowed the Griffons to stay control the action for most of the night despite shooting just 32 percent from the field for the game while the Gorillas hit at 41.7 percent and getting out-rebounded 42-33. Western was also without it’s leading backcourt scorer, point guard Adarius Fulton because of concussion symptoms.
“We just try not to give up baseline,” Kalvin Balque said. “On film, they were just getting baseline and the big guys were scoring all their points. We tried to keep them off baseline and we did that.”
Cedric Clinkscales led the Griffons in scoring with 15 points and added eight rebounds while Balque added an efficient 11 points in 15 minutes of action on 3-for-4 from the field including hitting his only 3-point attempt and was perfect in four attempts from the foul line.
Balque’s seven point spurt in the first half was a big spark in taking a 27-23 lead into the halftime break. He provided some excitement for the crowd when he was able to dunk in a lob in transition that appeared to be heading for the bleachers.
After scoring a career-high 17 points last game, Mrkaljevic had a rough outing from the field hitting on 2-for-14 from the field and 2-for-8 from 3-point distance. However, he led the Griffons in rebounds by pulling down nine. Western made just 7-for-24 from 3-point distance.
The Griffons return to action against Northeastern University at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at the MWSU Fieldhouse. Western will need to come up with some wins in this brutal stretch of top MIAA competition to keep post-seasons hopes alive.
“There’s a little more pressure on us now,” Balque said. “We really need these wins. We are just going to come in tomorrow and get better.”