KANSAS CITY — Central Missouri head coach Doug Karleskint primed himself with a whistle outside of the locker room door following the Mules clash with Midwestern State.
The post-win whistle blow, a tradition only used once prior this season, reverberated under the seating at Municipal Auditorium, followed by an explosion of cheers from the players.
The Mules had every reason to delight in what transpired on Tuesday night, Nov. 26, during the MIAA Thanksgiving Challenge.
Central Missouri went into the locker room down 19 points at halftime to winless Midwestern State after a miserable first half. When the Mules returned, they had a 72-67 win in hand after producing a diametrically opposite second half.
There was no Hollywood scripted halftime speech which caused the switch to flip, Karleskint said, he just challenged them to have some pride.
“Talked about toughness and energy and what we hadn’t done,” Karleskint said. “They were playing so much harder than us and having more fun.”
The Mustangs were having a blast as they approached their points per game average of 65 points within the first 20 minutes of action. Midwestern State knocked down 8 of 13 3-pointers and sank 14 of 16 free throws on its way to a 50-31 edge at the break.
To embark on the epic comeback, the Mules broke down the second half into winning four five-minute games, Karleskint said
Central Missouri got off to a fast start to take the opening leg of the second half, going on an 8-0 run in the opening 76 seconds of player with a pair of threes by Gavin Pinkley and Kendale Hampton.
The Mules “won” the opening five minutes, whittling the deficit down to 12, 54-42.
Pinkley bookend the second five-minute frame with a pair of three’s, bringing the Mules within a possession, 56-53, and prompting a Mustangs timeout.
Garrett Luinstra kept the Mules rolling between Pinkley’s threes, scoring five of his career-high seven points on back-to-back possessions.
“He plays so loose, which is a strength and sometimes it’s a weakness of his,” Karleskint said. “He is a change of pace guy when we bring him in off the bench. He made some unbelievable reads and passes and shots in the second half.”
Pinkley, who finished with a team-high 18 points and four rebounds, closed the gap further with a lay-up out of the timeout.
DeAndre Sorrells put Central Missouri back in front at 56-55 — the first lead for the Mules since the 14:05 mark of the first half — with a lay-up with 8:30 remaining.
The freshman finished with nine points in his second career start.
“He is the guy that we count on the most as a freshman,” Karleskint said. “That’s not a knock on any other guy, he just listens to every single detail and executes it and that’s why he is having a lot of success.”
Midwestern State and Central Missouri traded the lead seven times over the next six minutes until deadlocking at 65-65 with 2:04 remaining.
Hampton provided the final lead change, knocking down a jumper with 1:43 left.
The senior transfer produced a steal on the other end of the quarter, leading to a free throw by Pinkley.
Hampton capped off the night with his team-high eighth rebound and knocked down a pair of free throws with 24 seconds left to give UCM a 70-65 lead. Hampton finished with 13 points.
Central Missouri outscored Midwestern State 41-17 in the final 20 minutes of action.
“Nothing that I said won the game, it was just guys having some heart and believing,” Karleskint said.
The Mules shot 48% in the second half and 35.7% from three after the slow start
“We just really simplified it offensively and just kind of let the guys instincts take over and just make some plays,” Karleskint said.
After shooting 50% in the first half, Midwestern State was 6 of 25 from the field in the second half, cooling off considerable from range. The Mustangs went 0 of 12 in the back half of the game after starting off 8 of 13 from deep.
“We wanted to disrupt them by having some ball pressure and taking away some passing lane, which we didn’t do (in the first half),” Karleskint said.
Sorrells sparked the Mules in the first half, starting the game with the first five points to give UCM a 5-0 lead.
The Mustangs doubled up the Mules after that point, outscoring UCM 50-26 in remaining 18:40 of action.
“The first half, we were just extremely out of rhythm,” Karleskint said.
The win moves Central Missouri to 2-4 on the year with one non-conference game left before starting MIAA play.
“That is one of the things I wanted these guys to realize,” Karleskint said. “You’ve seen bad Mules in the first half when we don’t play with energy and effort. You’ve seen good Mules when you play with some urgency and some toughness. ...That’s what we have to be. We have to be the toughest team every single night. Some nights is not going to be pretty.”
Central Missouri will host Central Christian College of the Bible at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 30.