Ryan Prickett, Sports Information Director
MANHATTAN, Kan. – Down a few players to injury, without their head coach and associate head coach due to COVID-19 protocols, and after an 0-3 start to the regular season, Fort Hays State Men’s Basketball fought off an array of adversity on Tuesday night (Dec. 8) to defeat Kansas State University in Manhattan, 81-68. It was Fort Hays State’s first win over K-State in 82 years, last topping the Wildcats in 1938, even though it goes down as an exhibition game for the Tigers.
The team learned of head coach Mark Johnson and associate head coach Jeremy Brown being unavailable to coach Monday evening due to COVID-19 issues. So assistant coach Todd Johnston moved into the head coaching role for the evening and helped the Tigers pull off the big victory over a Division I Power 5 conference school.
“I’m just excited for the guys,” Johnston said after the game. “I’m happy for them. We are 0-3, but we are talented. We are young and inexperienced. Some of the experienced guys from last year are in a completely different role this year. We just haven’t figured out how to win a game (in regular season). I’m extremely excited for them. I hope this carries over and helps us win games in the future. I think for confidence and mentally for these guys, to see that, and pull it off is huge.”
The sense of upset over the Big 12 member on its home floor started to brew early in the game when Fort Hays State forced Kansas State into several early turnovers. An 8-0 run by the Tigers sparked by 3-pointers from Alvin Thompson and Quinten Rock, along with a stick back layup by Kaleb Hammeke, turned a 6-6 tie into a 14-6 lead. The Tigers never trailed the entire night. Though the Wildcats made several little bursts at the Tiger advantage in the first half, cutting the lead down to two points twice, Fort Hays State worked its way to a 35-29 advantage at halftime. It was the first lead the Tigers worked with at the half this season after trailing in all three of their regular season contests.
The win probability immediately grew larger when the Tigers scored the first five points out of the half, a Rock 3-point field goal and a Thompson layup. The Wildcats trimmed the lead back to seven, but back-to-back 3-point field goals by Jared Vitztum and Quinten Rock pushed the lead to 13 with 15:40 remaining. K-State cut the lead down to 10 four times up until 11 minutes remaining, but the Tigers had one more big burst in them that would be too much for the Wildcats to overcome.
A 9-0 run from 10:34 to 9:03 on the clock pushed the Tigers out to a 19-point advantage, and moments later Hammeke buried a 3-pointer to push the lead to 21 at 71-50. It would be a big enough cushion to hold off foul trouble that was starting to build for the Tigers with only nine players suited out for the game. K-State never trimmed the lead back inside double figures the final 16:13 of the game.
The Tigers did all of their scoring damage with six players. All six were in double figures. Vitztum led the way with 16, followed by Hammeke with 15, and Thompson and Rock each with 14. Bjarni Jonsson had 12 points, giving the Tiger starting five 71 of the team’s 81 points. Gilbert Peters provided 10 points off the bench. Vitztum added 11 rebounds for a double-double. FHSU shot 55.2 percent from the field and hit 10 3-point field goals.
Mike McGuirl led the Wildcats in scoring with 22 points, followed by DaJuan Gordon with 11 and Selton Miguel with 10. FHSU held KSU to 44 percent shooting, including just 19 percent beyond the 3-point line. FHSU outrebounded KSU 34-26.
The game was an exhibition for the Tigers, but counted toward the regular season record for the Wildcats. FHSU cannot exceed the 22-game limit set by NCAA Division II for regular season games this year. All 22 of FHSU’s regular season games scheduled this year are in MIAA play.
Though the Tiger record book will still show K-State with a 3-2 advantage in the all-time series for regular season meetings, the series will now be tied in the K-State record book as the Wildcats claim the game toward their regular season. FHSU won the first two meetings ever between the schools back in 1936 and 1938 before K-State won the last three regular season meetings before Tuesday night. K-State had won all four exhibitions between the teams from 2007-2017, but this will go down as Fort Hays State’s first exhibition win over the Wildcats. This was the first time in the series that one team claimed the game for regular season and the other as exhibition.
Johnston further commented on the great overall effort of the team on Tuesday night. “I thought the guys did a really good job at competing for 40 minutes. You start a game playing hard. You finish a game playing hard. Do all the things in between to win a game. So I think that was the biggest thing. We defended well, played hard and rebounded really well.”
“We have been scoring enough points to win games, but we haven’t been getting stops and getting rebounds to win games in the MIAA. I thought we showed that tonight. I told our guys at the end of this game this should kick start our MIAA play and show us that we can do it. And show us what it takes to do it. I think that was big for the guys.”
Fort Hays State is scheduled to return to MIAA play on Saturday at Newman University.