BY MAKENNA ALLEN
It was an eventful weekend on the road for the FHSU basketball teams that traveled to Missouri Southern and Pittsburg State on Thursday and Saturday, respectively. While the women’s team added two wins to their record, the men split their games, including an overtime victory against Missouri Southern.
This weekend, Nebraska-Kearney is on the docket, with two games against the Lopers on the slate for the Tiger women and a single home contest for the men.
As game day approaches, the women’s team is riding the momentum of a four-game winning streak. After a back-and-forth first half in Joplin, MO., the Tigers ultimately outscored the Missouri Southern Lions 24-9 during the third quarter. This strong second-half performance allowed the Tigers a 21-point victory over the Lions. The 70-49 win marks this sixth 20-point or greater victory for the Tigers this season.
The women’s team led the MIAA with this figure headed into their Saturday game against the Pittsburg State Gorillas. However, this game would also go down in MIAA history for the Tiger team. The 85-73 victory resulted from a strong shooting effort that left the Tigers with their strongest shooting percentage from the floor at 62.1%. Additionally, the Tigers were 64.3% from long range, a figure that sits as the third greatest in the team’s MIAA history.
During the contest senior guard, Jaden Hobbs, matched her season-high of 26-points while Whitney Randall recorded 21 of her own. Also in the double digits for the team was freshman, Katie Wagner, who contributed 16 points to the overall Tiger effort.
After selecting Wagner for the starting line up this weekend, women’s basketball head coach, Tony Hobson, was pleased with her performance.
“I thought she played great. She’s such a tenacious rebounder. She really has a nose for the ball and she plays such a high-energy, high motor,” Hobson said. “It’s those kinds of people you don’t like to play against because you can’t rest.”
Thanks to Wagner’s aid in the victory, the Tigers progressed to 9-2 in regular conference play.
The team will need to continue their momentum into their two games this week as both are scheduled against a strong Nebraska-Kearney team. Indeed, the Lopers are undefeated in the MIAA at 12-0.
FHSU was originally set to play a double-header against UNK in December; however, due to COVID protocols, only the men were able to play. After a winter storm in the area delayed the original game set for Tuesday, the Tiger women will now head to Kearney on Thursday before returning home Saturday for back-to-back tilts against the Lopers.
As such, the Tigers will take on a team that is leading the MIAA and ranked No. 4 in the D2SIDA national media poll.
This situation of playing back-to-back games against the same opponent is an uncommon occurrence in collegiate basketball.
“It will be a little strange. We’ve done it a couple of times before but these are such important games and high-intensity games. It will be interesting. You don’t have a lot of time for adjustments,” Hobson said. “I think both of us know each others’ teams well enough that that’s not going to be a major deal. It will just come down to your kids being ready to play and who can make more good plays during the game.”
Headed into this week of play against the Tigers, the 12-0 Nebraska-Kearney team is coming off a slate of victories similar to that of the Tigers. Last Thursday, the Lopers recorded a 57-53 win over Pittsburg State before heading on to Joplin, MO. to defeat Missouri Southern 65-57.
While the Lopers most recently defeated the same opponents that fell to the Tigers last weekend, the team is currently averaging 62.1 points per game. They are shooting 42.0% from the field, 26.3% from beyond the three-point arc, and 63.1% from the free-throw line.
Meanwhile, after last weekend’s performance, the Tigers average 75.8 points per game while shooting 45.7% from the field, 36.4% from long range, and 73.5% from the line. They also average 37.1 rebounds per game, all while giving up 12.3 rebounds during each contest.
Currently, the Lopers hold the No. 1 position in the league. The Tigers follow close behind in the No. 3 position, making this week of play particularly important to the FHSU team.
“More than anything, I’m just happy we’re not in the middle of the pack and playing the best team twice,” Hobson said. “We’re in a great position and we just have to keep an even keel. Even though we know how important it is, we’ve got nine more games after these two and the Kearney game doesn’t count more than when we play anybody else, except for that’s who we happen to be chasing.”
As the women’s Tiger basketball team prepares for a tough week of repeated play against a strong MIAA competitor, the FHSU men’s basketball team will be looking to spring back from their most recent loss on Saturday to Pittsburg State.
A strong second-half showing during this contest provided the Tigers with some momentum to decrease their 53-21 halftime deficit. However, the effort fell short as the Gorillas ultimately defeated the Tigers 79-68.
Even though the men fell in Pittsburg, they had already managed an overtime victory over the Missouri Southern Lions last Thursday. The 102-94 victory proved to be a record-breaking game for the Tigers, as the 102-points scored mark the greatest number of points recorded by the Tigers during a true MIAA regular-season road contest.
The sheer point-value recorded is not the only MIAA record shattered in Joplin. During the game, senior, Jared Vitztum, and freshman, Kaleb Hammeke, each recorded 32 points. The combined total of 64 points marks the greatest amount scored by a Tiger combo to score at least 30 points each in the same contest.
Vitzitum and Hammeke were not the only Tigers to mark stats in the double-digits that evening either as senior Alvin Thompson contributed 19 points to the high-scoring total.
Though the Tigers managed to go 40.8% from the field and 86.4% from the free-throw line, they were unable to continue the team’s momentum from the victory into their play on Saturday against Pitt State.
In fact, men’s basketball head coach, Mark Johnson, attributed some of his team’s challenges to the difficulty of competing for an extended period against Missouri Southern.
“That really was the first time this year I’ve felt like we just didn’t come really focused and ready to play,” Johnson said. “I don’t know if the Thursday game, not only the overtime, the minutes played, the emotional toll of feeling like we battled to win the game and let it slip away and had to do that again.”
Fortunately, the Tigers will have the opportunity to compete for a win in GMC this Saturday when they take on the Nebraska-Kearney Lopers.
This will not be the first time the two teams have met this season, however. In fact, the Tigers fell by just four-points to the Lopers in their third game of the season on Dec. 5. Now, it is time for Tiger redemption against a Nebraska-Kearney team that is 5-8 this season.
In reflecting on the Tigers’ first game against the Lopers, Johnson saw a struggle when it came to his team’s ability to guard ball screens.
“What they ran first the half gave us as many problems as anything we’ve faced all year. We’ve got a week to prepare for that and make some adjustments,” Johnson said. “Their whole key to their season, like all of us but even more to them, is just shooting. They’re starting to shoot a little better. When they make threes, they become a lot better because they’re not tremendous off the bounce.”
Similar to the Tigers, Nebraska-Kearney is coming off a loss on Thursday to Pitt State and a Saturday win over Missouri Southern. As the Lopers travel to Hays, they currently average 68.0 points per game while shooting 44.5% from the field, 32.9% from beyond the three-point arc, and 72.9% from the free-throw line.
As the Tigers look towards a week filled with Loper action, Tiger fans can plan to head to GMC to watch the action on Saturday. While the women will first play Nebraska-Kearney on the road on Thursday at 5:30 p.m., they will return to Hays to tip-off on Saturday at 2:00 p.m. Fans can watch the men’s team play that same day at 4:00 p.m. Tickets can be purchased online through the FHSU Athletics website. Tiger basketball enthusiasts can also log on to the MIAA network homepage to live stream all of the games.