By Nick Hampton
TAHLEQUAH — Make it three for three at home during the month of January for Northeastern State.
Led by their dynamic duo of Taylor Lewis and Tosha Tyler, Northeastern State knocked off No. 18 Pittsburg State 65-50 in MIAA conference action Wednesday night at Jack Dobbins Field House. The Gorillas became the third ranked team to leave the NSU campus in defeat this month, joining Fort Hays State and Washburn.
The Gorillas (12-5, 6-3) managed to contain Lewis for the first eight minutes of the game and carved out an 18-12 lead with 8:25 to play. But then the Broken Arrow senior went to work, scoring seven straight points to put the RiverHawks (12-5, 7-2) on top 19-18.
Lewis ended up with 12 points in the half and Northeastern State outscored Pittsburg State 16-6 over the final eight minutes to lead at halftime 28-24. And that would be as close as the Gorillas would get.
The RiverHawks defense, which forced seven Pitt State turnovers in the first half, continued to pressure in the second half, outscoring the Gorillas 11-2 in the first five minutes to take a 13-point lead at 39-26. Tyler stepped in where Lewis left off, dropping in eight points for Northeastern during that run.
Tyler, who led the RiverHawks with 19 points, credited a lot of it to her teammates..
“We were just doing a lot of things right on offense,” said the senior from Vinita. “We really hustled and set good screens and got each other open and we just clicked in the second half.”
The RiverHawks were 5-of-7 from beyond the arc in the second half and for the game shot 44 percent from the field while limiting Pittsburg State to just 30 percent shooting. The victory also avenged a loss to the Gorillas in last year’s playoffs.
“Obviously we’re real pleased with our play here the past couple of weeks, in fact this whole semester,” said a pleased NSU head coach Randy Gipson. “We’ll enjoy this one tonight, but this time of year you’ve got to move on to get ready for the next game.”
Tyler, who played in her 100th career game at Northeastern State, was closely followed in the scoring column by Lewis who had 17. And despite the Gorillas having five players that were 5-foot-11 or better, the RiverHawks played them even in the rebounding department with Sarah Green grabbing 11 boards.
NSU 64, Pitt St. 62
The game was as close as the identical records the two teams brought into the game. But after losing a double-digit lead, the RiverHawks needed an off balance fall away jumper by Bryton Hobbs with seven seconds left to secure the victory.
After the teams traded the lead most of the first half, the RiverHawks (13-4, 6-3) shut out Pittsburg State over the final 3:43 of the half to lead 34-26 at the break. The second half saw Northeastern State build the lead to 12 points at 47-36 with just over 15 minutes to play.
And that’s when the tide started to turn.
“From the moment we had that double-digit lead until the last 10 seconds of the game, they outplayed us,” said a relieved RiverHawks coach Larry Gipson. “We made the play at the end and they didn’t and that’s really what the game came down to.”
Trailing 52-41, Pitt State (12-5, 5-4) went on 9-0 run to make it 52-50 with 8:27 to play. Northeastern maintained a precarious lead until the Gorillas tied it at 56-56 with 3:29 to play.
It was still tied at 62-62 after Landon DeMasters muscled in a shot underneath with 56 seconds left. After the Gorillas missed a 3-point shot, NSU called a timeout to set up the last play with 37 seconds. After working the ball around and the shot clock winding down, the ball came into Hobbs, MIAA men’s basketball reigning Athlete of the Week, who double-pumped and while falling away and off balance, hit the short jumper.
The RiverHawks held their breath as Kaleb Porter, who led Pitt State with 17 points, missed a 3-point attempt and a tip-in try at the buzzer fell away.
“I’m proud of our guys for getting the win against a very good basketball team,” said Gipson. “But we’ve got get some more help offensively for Bryton and Jermaine (Bransford)”.
Hobbs paced the RiverHawks with 23 points and Bransford, who recorded his eighth double-double in the last 11 games, had 19 points and 11 rebounds. Senior floor lead Ethan Anderson also finished in double figures for NSU with 13 points.
Northeastern State will be on the road in MIAA action Saturday at Missouri Southern State.