Ryan Prickett, Sports Information Director
ST. JOSEPH, Mo. – Fort Hays State struggled mightily early on offense, but charged back from a 15-point first half deficit to defeat Missouri Western 74-69 on Thursday evening (Jan. 19). The Tigers moved to 10-6 overall and 4-4 in the MIAA with the win, while Missouri Western fell to 6-12 overall and 2-7 in the MIAA.
Brady Werth had a huge night for the Tigers, putting up a new career-high 19 points while tying his career high in rebounds with 11. It was the first double-double of his career. Trey O’Neil caught fire in the second half, scoring all 14 of his points on the night which included a huge 3-point field goal with just over a minute to play to put the Tigers up five. Rod Davis finished with a team-high 20 points, despite scoring his first two points with just under four minutes to play in the first half.
The Tigers struggled to put the ball in the hoop for a good chunk of the first half, eventually falling behind by 15, 29-14, at the 5:04 mark. But the Tigers denied the Griffons from scoring a field goal the remainder of the half and went on a 13-3 run to trim the lead down to just five, 32-27, by halftime.
The teams traded points for the first three minutes of the second half before the Tigers went on an 8-0 run to take their first lead since a 5-2 advantage early in the first half. Werth was a big spark in the run, hitting a baseline turnaround to cut the lead to one then followed with a driving dunk to put FHSU up 42-41. The Griffons tied the score twice before a 3-point play by O’Neil and a pair of free throws by Werth pushed the Tigers in front by five.
After the Griffons cut the lead back to five, O’Neil and Werth were the answer for FHSU again. O’Neil buried a 3-pointer and Werth added a layup off an assist from O’Neil to put the Tigers up six. Then Davis dropped a 3-point field goal to push the Tiger lead to eight with 7:33 to play.
The Griffons kept the pressure on, pulling within two on a pair of free-throws with just over two minutes to play, but O’Neil provided a big dagger, hitting a 3-pointer with 1:07 remaining to push the lead back to five. The Tigers held on by the margin in the end.
Werth was efficient on the offensive end, going 8-of-11 from the field. He was 3-of-6 at the free-throw line. Both O’Neil and Davis went 3-of-8 beyond the 3-point line. Davis added a team-high six assists to go with his 20 points.
After shooting just 39.3 percent from the field in the first half, FHSU shot 50 percent overall and from beyond the 3-point line in the second half. The Tigers finished at 44.8 percent overall for the game. By dominating the offensive glass in the game 12-1, the Tigers outscored the Griffons 15-0 in second chance points. The Tigers had a nine rebound advantage overall in the game, which helped offset a 51.1 percent overall shooting percentage and 45 percent 3-point percentage by the Griffons.
Joe Hamilton led the Griffons in scoring with 16 points, followed by Cole Clearman with 15 and TJ Evans with 13. The Griffons had all five starters finish in double figures, but had just three points from their bench.
The Tigers now get the challenge of taking on the nation’s No. 1 team on Saturday, Northwest Missouri State, in Maryville, Mo. The Bearcats are a perfect 17-0 overall, 9-0 in the MIAA. The Bearcats are a combined 32-0 in football and men’s basketball this season after the football team won a second straight national title.