The Wayne State men’s basketball team traveled to Warrensburg, Missouri, last weekend to face Pittsburg State on Friday and Central Missouri on Saturday. The Wildcats found themselves in two tightly contested battles, coming away with a 95-92 win on Friday against the Gorillas and a 73-67 loss to the Mules on Saturday. The opening win improved head coach Jeff Kaminsky’s record in season-openers at Wayne State to 2-1.
“I think we played extremely well at times and unfortunately also, had some letdowns at times,” Kaminsky said. “Overall, it was a weekend that you look at from a perspective of playing two teams that could be in the national tournament picture. To win a game and have an opportunity to win both games is a very good sign.”
Against Pittsburg State, the Wildcats were able to jump out to a 12-5 lead, courtesy of five early points from senior guard Vance Janssen. The Gorillas eased themselves back after the Wildcats’ quick start, and WSC faced their first deficit of the game at the 13:03 mark of the first half.
From that point, the ’Cats used red-hot shooting (66.7 percent) during a seven-minute span to go on a 25-8 run to take a 41-25 lead. Junior center Tony Bonner was responsible for eight of the points amidst the big run. Pittsburg State used a 13-2 scoring run to close the gap before halftime, and the Wildcats went into the locker room with a 51-45 advantage.
The game remained close throughout the second half, as WSC held a 71-69 lead at the 8:00 mark. Senior guard Kendall Jacks scored five straight points to extend the Wildcat lead to 76-69. A 7-0 Gorilla run knotted the game at 76-76 with 6:26 remaining. The Wildcats again countered Pittsburg State’s momentum and went on a 10-1 run to take an 86-77 lead with four minutes remaining in the game. The Wildcats did not trail the rest of the way, fending off a late Pittsburg State run with clutch free throw shooting to seal victory number one.
Five Wildcats finished the evening in double-digits, as Joseph led the way with 23. Janssen had 19 points, Jacks had 12, freshman guard Nick Ferrarini added 10 and Bonner had 10 of his own. WSC finished with an impressive 58.3 shooting percentage (35-60) on the evening, including 52.4 percent from three-point range (11-21).
“One of the great things about our team is that we have really good balance,” Kaminsky said. “We have our three seniors who are leading us, but we also have guys coming off the bench like Tony Bonner, Nick Ferrarini and Al’Tavius Jackson who all can provide us a lift from a scoring perspective and defensive perspective.”
On Saturday against Central Missouri, the Wildcats used an 18-2 scoring run after an early 6-5 deficit to grab a 23-8 advantage. The Mules cut the WSC lead to 25-16, but the Wildcats went on an 8-2 run to extend their lead back to 15. WSC then fell victim of a 13-3 run from Central Missouri to cut the lead to 36-31 at halftime. The ’Cats shot 14 of 23 (60.9 percent) from the field headed to the locker room.
Wayne State came out swinging in the second half, gaining a 43-32 lead with 17:05 remaining. Central Missouri followed with a 15-2 run to grab a 47-45 advantage. Both teams exchanged leads for the next few minutes, as the Wildcats’ last advantage came off a Bonner free throw with 7:51 remaining to make the score 52-51. UCM proceeded to go on an 11-4 run for a 62-56 lead, but a pair of Janssen free throws and a three-pointer cut the lead to a point with just over four minutes remaining. The Wildcats could not close the door late, as UCM came out on top, 73-67.
Joseph led the Wildcats in scoring for the second consecutive day with 20 points on seven of 12 shooting. Jacks added 17 points on seven of 13 shooting and Vance Janssen added 10 points. WSC shot 24 of 52 (46.2 percent) for the game.
“I think the biggest thing is taking care of the ball,” Kaminsky said. “We were very uncharacteristic in terms of turning the ball over. Some of that had to do with the quality of the teams and the athleticism of the teams we played, but clearly a lot of it had to do with our decision-making and lack of toughness with the ball at times.”
The Wildcats will continue a current four-game homestand as they take on Nebraska Christian tomorrow night at 7 p.m. The ’Cats will then have eight days between games as they prepare for Mount Marty on Nov. 24 and Nebraska-Kearney on Nov. 27.
“It’s going to be great to be at home,” Kaminsky said. “For us to have an outstanding season, we need to be a dominant team at home and establish ourselves as a really difficult team to play against at home. If we’re great at home, we have a chance to have a great season.”