Ryan Prickett, Sports Information Director
PITTSBURG – Fort Hays State made a late push to pick up a big road win on Thursday night (Feb. 7) at Pittsburg State. Aaron Nicholson hit a driving layup with 4.8 seconds remaining to lift the Tigers to a 77-75 victory. Brady Werth had a huge second half, scoring 17 of his team-high 25 points after the break. FHSU moved to 14-7 overall, 8-4 in the MIAA with the win, while PSU moved to 14-8 overall, 7-6 in the MIAA.
The teams engaged in a tight battle early with neither team gaining more than five points of separation in the first 15 minutes. The Tigers used a 10-2 run from 7:35 to 3:43 on the clock in the first half to build an eight-point advantage of 33-25. However, the Tigers gave away their lead quick by turning the ball over three straight possessions that allowed the Gorillas to make a quick 7-0 burst and get back within one. A Werth jumper broke up the run to push the lead back to three, but an 8-0 burst by the Gorillas in the final 1:06 left FHSU trailing by five at the half, 40-35.
Werth carried the Tigers early in the second half by putting on a clinic in the post, using an array of moves to score the first eight FHSU points after the break. An 8-3 run by Werth against the Gorillas tied the game 43-43 with 17:26 to play. Marcus Cooper put the Tigers up by one, hitting one of two free throws at the 16:49 mark, but the Gorillas took the lead back with a three pointer 15 seconds later.
From that point, the Tigers kept clawing and tied the game five more times before pushing past the Gorillas with 1:31 to go in the game with an old-fashioned three-point play from Werth. A Trey O’Neil three-pointer just a minute earlier tied the game and Werth’s conversion gave the Tigers their first lead in more than 15 minutes.
The Gorillas pulled back within one, but Nicholson drained a pair of key free throws just inside 30 seconds to play to push the lead back to three. It was big because Grant Lozoya, who had a game-high 27 points for the Gorillas, knotted the game with 15 seconds remaining on an off balance three-point shot over two Tiger defenders in the right corner.
It came down to Nicholson, who collected himself near midcourt before taking off on a dribble drive to the basket. He had to hang in mid-air and make a slight adjustment with his body before releasing the game-winning shot with just over four ticks remaining on the clock. Lozoya’s last-second heave from way beyond the 3-point line was long and the Tigers came away with a hard-fought two-point win.
Nicholson finished with 11 points, while O’Neil added 12 all on a 4-of-5 effort beyond the 3-point line. O’Neil also had a team-high six assists. Werth produced the fifth double-double of his career, adding 13 rebounds (ties his career high) to his 25 points. His 12 field goals made was a new career high.
Demetrius Levarity had the hot hand early for Pitt State and finished with 19 points, while Trenton Clayton added 12 points and nine rebounds. Lozoya hit five three-point field goals and eight free-throw attempts in his 27-point performance.
The Tigers remained in fifth in the MIAA standings and take on the team right in front of them Saturday, Missouri Southern, at 3:30 pm in Joplin. The Lions are 18-5 overall and 9-4 in the MIAA. FHSU is just one game back of second place in the conference standings, currently held by Washburn and Lincoln at 9-3.