MIAA Tournament implications on the line for Tiger basketball during the weekend homestand

BY MAKENNA ALLEN

Tiger basketball survived a week of frigid road games and is back in Hays for more MIAA action this week as both teams will come head-to-head with the Lincoln Blue Tigers on Thursday and the Central Missouri Mules and Jennies on Saturday.

Both teams move into the week riding the momentum of victories over the past weekend.  

For the Tiger women, the battle continues to extend their 11 game win streak.  The team achieved the 13th double-digit win streak in program history last Thursday when they took on the Rogers State Hillcats in Claremore, OK.  

Though the game was tied at the half, the Tigers managed to pull away by 12 points in a four-minute span of the second quarter.  FHSU led from that point on and was able to seal the evening with a 71-56 victory.  Senior, Whitney Randall, led the team in shooting with 17 points.  Junior, Cydney Bergmann, joined Randall in the double-digits with 15 points.  Meanwhile, freshman, Olivia Hollenbeck, recorded her first collegiate double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds.  

Hollenbeck nearly achieved her second double-double during the Tigers’ road game on Saturday against the Northeastern State RiverHawks.  Though she came up just one point shy of this statistic, Hollenbeck’s nine points and 11 rebounds contributed to her team’s overall 70-58 victory in Tahlequah, OK.  

After a back-and-forth first quarter, the Tigers took the lead and never trailed.  Despite several RieverHawk efforts to overtake the FHSU team, a combined effort of three Tigers scoring in the double-digits helped the team to their win.  Senior, Jaden Hobbs, led the team with 17 points while freshman, Katie Wagner, scored 14 points of her own.  Randall also contributed 13 points to the final score.  

Throughout the course of the game, the Tigers shot a notable 47.5% from the floor.  They also outrebounded the RiverHawks 38-29 and forced 14 turnovers to finish the game.  

With this 3-0 road swing under their belts, the now 16-2 Tiger team heads into this week of play in a strong position for the MIAA playoffs.  

“I think we’ve worked our way into a good position, a position where we kind of control our own destiny,” Women’s Basketball Head Coach Tony Hobson said.  “Something’s got to give these last two weeks because the top three people are all playing each other.  There’s going to be a lot decided this week but then there will be two more tough road games for us to finish out the season.” 

Indeed, the Tigers will take on one of the top teams in the league on Saturday.  However, they must first face the 1-17 Lincoln Blue Tigers.  

The Blue Tigers are on a five-game losing streak.  Their sole victory this season came against Northwest Missouri on Jan. 28.  Since that time, the Blue Tigers have recorded on average 65.9 points per game.  They also average 36.3% from the field, 26.3% from beyond the 3-point arc, and 70.6% from the free-throw line.  Last weekend, the team fell twice consecutively to Emporia State.  

This will be the second time the Tigers have come against the Blue Tigers.  The first time the two teams played on Jan. 9, FHSU emerged with an 85-70 victory.  

While the Lincoln team’s record may not reflect it, Hobson emphasized the fact that FHSU must still be prepared for battle.  

“Lincoln is another one of those teams that nobody really tells them they’re supposed to get beat and that they don’t have to play hard,” Hobson said.  “They play hard and they’re athletic and a team you just don’t want to overlook because they’re athletic enough that they can make you look silly if you’re not ready.”

Even so, Hobson believes his team will be ready for a tough game due to the emotional effect of the senior night set to take place that evening.  During the proceedings, Madison Mittie will be recognized for her contribution to the Tiger team.

The remaining seniors on the team will be returning next year due to extended eligibility from a 2019-2020 season shortened by COVID-19.

Looking beyond this senior night into women’s Tiger basketball, the team will tip off in a tough game on Saturday.  The Central Missouri Jennies travel to Hays for the first time this season, though it will not be the first time the two teams have played.  

In fact, the Tigers are looking to redeem one of their losses this season.  When the two teams last competed on Jan. 7, the Tigers fell by seven-points.  

Now, as the teams prepare for play in GMC, the Jennies present stiff competition for the Tigers.  Both teams sit at the top of the MIAA, along with Nebraska-Kearney.  Meanwhile, the Tigers are ranked No. 9 according to the WCBA DII Coaches Poll.  The Central Missouri team currently holds the No. 20 position.  

As they prepare for Saturday’s game, the Tigers must be aware that the Jennies currently average 71.1 points per game.  Additionally, they average 43.8% from the field, 34.5% from beyond the three-point arc, and 76.2% from the free-throw line.  

After securing victories over Missouri Western and Northwest Missouri last weekend, the Jennies are 16-2 for the season.  

While the Tigers channel their energy and focus towards their strong Central Missouri opponent, the men’s Tiger basketball team continues to fight for its chance to play in the upcoming MIAA Tournament.  

After going 2-1 on their three-game road swing last week, the Tigers are still in the running for the competition.  

They started off the week with an 89-79 victory over the University of Central Oklahoma Bronchos.  In the second meeting with the team in just four days, the Tigers swept the season’s home/away series thanks to a strong first-half performance during which the Tigers led by as many as 18-points.  

Though the Bronchos managed to cut the lead to just two points on several occasions during the second half, the Tigers were able to maintain their lead.  Throughout the course of play, they recorded a season-high of 54.7% shooting from the field and 65.4% from long-range.  

Ultimately, the Tigers were unable to continue their four-game winning streak after losing a back-and-forth battle against Rogers State on Thursday.  The nail-biter of a game that included 12 lead changes and seven ties culminated in a score tied with just 14 seconds on the clock.  However, a three-point play put victory just out of reach for the Tiger team that fell 69-66.  

Fortunately, the Tigers were able to bounce back from this loss in time for their third road game on Saturday against the Northeastern State RiverHawks.  Though the game was tied at halftime, the Tigers were able to pull away during the second half in order to record their largest margin of victory for the season.  During their 73-58 game, freshman, Quinten Rock led the team in scoring with 19 points.  Junior, Jordan Pumphrey, also recorded 12 points.

As the Tiger lineup expanded with junior, Nyjee Wright’s, return to play, men’s basketball head coach, Mark Johnson, believes the fresh legs may have contributed to his team’s successful road swing.  

“I thought our guys in all three nights really came out in a focused effort and played pretty well.  They obviously played fantastic at Central Oklahoma,” Johnson said.  “I thought we played fantastic again in the second half of Northeastern and still pretty solid in the other ones.”

Even despite the Thursday evening loss, Johnson was pleased with his team’s performance.

“Overall, a great road trip,” Johnson said.  “We would have liked to have had the Rogers State game obviously but I thought we played really good.”  

It was during this week of strong play that senior, Jared Vitztum, marked his 10th double-double with 14 points and 12 rebounds.  The week proved to be historic in Vitztum’s career as he passed the 1,000 point mark during the game against the University of Central Oklahoma.  Vitztum also surpassed 600 rebounds during Saturday’s game, making him one of just eight Tigers to ever have at least 1,000-points and 600 rebounds. 

“Like the old Don Meyer used to say, no one can say you rebound too much.  You can shoot too much.  You can pass too much.  You can do a lot of things but there’s one thing you can never do too much of and that’s rebounding,” Johnson said.  “Jared just does a great job of going after every rebound.  He’s a skilled guy.  He’s a tough match-up, whether it be three-pointers or mid-range.  He’s proved his post-play over the years and has just really become a complete player.” 

Vitztum will remain a crucial part of his team’s success as the men’s Tiger team prepares to take on the Lincoln Blue Tigers on Thursday.  Indeed, the Tigers are looking to avenge their 76-64 loss from Jan. 9.   Since that time, the Blue Tigers have progressed to 10-8 this season.  They are on a two-game winning streak after defeating Newman and Emporia State last weekend.  

Currently, the team averages 76.9 points per game while shooting 47.1% from the field, 36.4% from long-range, and 64.6% from the free-throw line.  

In addition to redeeming their loss against the Lincoln team, the FHSU men’s team must prepare to do the same against the University of Central Missouri Mules on Saturday.  The last time the two teams played, the Tigers fell 71-64.   

While the Tigers have progressed to a 9-9 season record since that time, the Mules are now 6-12.  They are looking to break a four-game losing streak after their most recent losses to Missouri Western and Northwest Missouri.  

After falling 80-37 last Saturday against the Bearcats, the Mules average 69.4 points per game.  Meanwhile, they are shooting 45.1% from the field, 33.3% from beyond the three-point arc, and 74.5% from the free-throw line.  

Despite the team’s current struggles, Johnson and the Tigers are still prepared for a tough match-up based on the Mules’ performance last time the two teams met.

“Central Missouri really turned us over.  They got after us,” Johnson said.  “They trapped us in a lot of our ball screens and we really struggled with that.  They’re a pretty athletic team.”  

Still, Johnson is optimistic about his team’s ability to perform at a higher level than in their previous game against Central Missouri.

“I guess the positive is that we didn’t feel like we played very well on that trip and we still had opportunities,” Johnson said.  “The last 10 minutes got away from us but I feel like we can play better than we did on that trip for sure.”

As both Tiger teams prepare for yet another busy week of basketball and as the MIAA Tournament draws ever nearer, Tiger fans can head to GMC this weekend to show their support for their favorite teams.  Tickets will be available online or at the door.  Additionally, Tiger fans can virtually support their teams by logging on to the MIAA Network home page.  

The women will play the Blue Tigers first at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday followed by the men at 7:30 p.m.  Tune in again on Saturday to watch tough matches against the University of Central Missouri.  The women are set to tip-off at 2:00 p.m. while the men play at 4:00 p.m.

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