Tiger basketball returns home for full slate of MIAA action

BY MAKENNA ALLEN

FHSU basketball returns to the friendly confines of Gross Memorial Coliseum this week after a full road slate in Missouri last week. While both teams dropped their games against the University of Central Missouri last Thursday, the Tiger women were able to bounce back with a victory over the Lincoln Blue Tigers on Saturday. However, the Tiger men lost during this second contest as well and are now looking to return to Hays to break a three-game losing streak.

Despite the effort of senior, Jaden Hobbs, who recorded a career-high of 26-points, the Tigers were ultimately defeated 79-72 against UCM. 

The Tigers rallied after this second straight loss, however, just in time for their second game of the weekend against Lincoln.  After the first minutes of the game, the Tigers never trailed thanks to the help of senior, Whitney Randall, who had a team-high 20 points.  

Four other Tigers including Hobbs, Jessie Sallach, Olivia Hollenbeck, and Katie Wagner, also joined Randall in the double-digits.  As the Tigers emerged victorious by a score of 85-70, the team is now 6-2 for the season.  

Tiger women’s basketball head coach, Tony Hobson, was pleased with his team’s ability to adjust their mindset during their first four-day road swing.  

“I thought our frame of mind was excellent going into Saturday’s game,” Hobson said.  “I don’t know if it’s harder to get a team ready to play after you lose a tough one, a hard-fought one against a real rival or if it’s easier.  I’ve had it work both ways.”

While the momentum worked in a positive manner for the women’s team, it failed to do so for the men after they first suffered a loss at the hands of UCM.  Thursday evening, the Mules achieved their second win this season when they beat the Tigers 71-64.  

During the contest against UCM, senior, Jared Vitzitum, led his team in points scored with 22.  He also proved a key player in the game against Lincoln when he recorded his sixth double-double this season with 14 points and 13 rebounds.  

Though the Tigers trailed by just one point during halftime against Lincoln, they were unable to hold on to their momentum, due in part to a large number of turnovers that translated into points for the Blue Tigers.  

In fact, throughout the course of the weekend, both teams struggled when it came to turnovers.  During their games against UCM,  the Tiger men had 18 turnovers while the women recorded a season-high of 20.  The women were able to spring back from this figure in their game against Lincoln, recording a season-low of just nine turnovers.  However, the men finished their game against the Blue Tigers in a similar fashion with 17 turnovers.  

In spite of the fact that the Tiger team lacked depth with players unable to participate, men’s basketball head coach, Mark Johnson, emphasized the importance that his team improve in this area.

“I think we’ve got to do a much better job taking care of the ball.  I think that also combines with confidence,” Johnson said.  “We’ve got to have confidence.  I think we’re a little shook right now, especially in the backcourt.  We’ve just got to have more confidence in ourselves and more belief and take care of the ball.”

Johnson attributed a portion of these turnovers to his players.  However, he also suggested that this challenge may be the result of the natural progression of the season.

“Just scouting, the more you get into your season, people are more aware of your personnel,” Johnson said.  “They’re changing, not letting our guys go to their strengths as earlier in the season we were allowed to do.” 

These challenges continue for both teams this week as the schedule holds games against Northwest Missouri Missouri State and Missouri Western State.  

First up on Thursday, the women will take on a Northwest Missouri Bearcat team that has not seen play since Jan. 2.  The team’s most recent game resulted in a 30-point loss to Pittsburg State that leaves the Bearcats 3-3 this season.  Though their games against Emporia and Washburn last weekend were postponed due to COVID-19 protocols regarding the opposing teams, the Bearcats will travel to Hays looking to avenge their previous loss.  

While the Bearcats may have put up just 50 points against PSU, the team is averaging 60.2-points per game.  They are 44.2% from the field, 33.9% from beyond the 3-point arc, and are 67.6% from the free-throw line.

Hobson suggested that his Tigers may struggle to get to the basket throughout the game against the overall well-rounded Northwest team.

“It seems like they have all the bases covered,” Hobson said.  “If they do have a weakness, it’s that they don’t have a lot of depth inside.” 

While the Tiger women must first focus on their Bearcat opponents, they also fix their eyes on Saturday’s game against the Missouri Western Griffons.  The Griffons are 2-6 this season after falling 61-49 to Washburn last Saturday.  Following this sound defeat, the Griffons average 62.1-points per game.  They are 39.0% from the field, 30.7% from beyond the 3-point arc, and are 66.1% from the free-throw line.  

As the Lady Griffons head to Hays, they hope to snap a five-game losing streak.  However, this is not the case for either of the teams the Tiger men’s team will face in this upcoming week of tough play.  

Indeed, on Thursday, the men will take on the nationally-ranked Northwest Missouri State Bearcats.  The team was ranked No. 1 throughout the season until they fell to No. 5 Washburn on Thursday.  

With just one overtime loss to Washburn last week, the Bearcats are 7-1.  Following the upset on their home court, however, the Bearcats managed to spring back by Saturday in order to soundly defeat Emporia by more than 20 points.  

Until the Bearcats dropped their game against Washburn, Northwest Missouri had won 25 consecutive MIAA contests.  Perhaps an even more important figure for the hosting Tigers this week is that the Bearcats have won their last 10 road games.  Additionally, the team is 41-4 on the road over the last four seasons.  

To add to these impressive figures, the Bearcats average 80.4-points per game.  They are 53.8% from the field, 42.4% from beyond the three-point arc, and are 78.2% from the line.  As the Tigers struggled in their turnovers this past weekend, they must also be aware of the fact that Northwest Missouri averages just 11.8 turnovers per game.  

According to Johson, physicality will be essential to a Tiger victory over the Bearcats.

“The biggest thing we have to do on our end of the floor is get it inside and take advantage,” Johnson said.  “I feel like they’re not real physical up front.”

This match-up against the Bearcats will not be the only tough contest for the Tiger men’s team this weekend.  On Saturday, the Tigers will tip-off against another nationally-ranked team.  The Missouri Western Griffons are ranked No. 22 and currently sit at 8-1 this season.  

Their only loss came when the team faced Pittsburg State.  However, the Griffons are now on a four-game winning streak after defeating Emporia last Thursday and then Washburn on Saturday.  This is the same Washburn team that had defeated No. 1 Northwest Missouri just two days prior.  However, the Griffons were able to manage a 74-67 victory on their home court.  

As the Tigers prepare to take on this team, they must recognize that Missouri Western averages 84.4-points per game.  Meanwhile, the team is 44.3% from the field, 30.9% from beyond the three-point arc, and 72.2% from the free-throw line.  

Though the men’s team faces a tough slate of opponents, Johnson and his players have been preparing for this point of their season. 

“We knew this stretch of our season was going to be the most challenging,” Johnson said.  “We’ve just got to play through it.  We’ve got to find a way to be confident.  We’ve got to find a way to play better.  And we’ve got to find a way to win.”

On Thursday, the women tip-off against the Bearcats at 5:30 p.m. while the men play at 7:30 p.m.  Return on Saturday for another set of games as the women take on the Griffons at 2:00 p.m.  The men will play at 4:00 p.m. that same afternoon.  As always, catching the games via the MIAA Network is also an option for supporting Tiger basketball.

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