Tiger basketball enters final week of regular season on high note

BY MAKENNA ALLEN

After a weekend full of successful home games, the FHSU basketball teams are one step closer to the MIAA Conference Tournament.  Four separate home victories propelled the men’s and women’s teams into a new week of play.  During the final week of regular-season games, both Tiger teams will square off against Missouri Western and Northwest Missouri State University.

The men’s Tiger team will be first in the rotation of games this week.  

After two wins at GMC, they are now on a three-game winning streak.  Their successful week began on Thursday with an 84-67 win over Lincoln University.  A back-and-forth first half that saw 11 lead changes ultimately gave way to a powerful Tiger effort in the second half.  Despite two attempts by Lincoln to cut the lead, the Tigers maintained their advantage until the final buzzer.  

Senior forward Jared Vitztum’s 11th double-double contributed to the victory.  Meanwhile, fellow senior, Alvin Thompson and freshman, Quinten Rock, joined Vitztum in the double digits in points scored for the game with 18 and 14, respectively.  Redshirt freshman, Kaleb Hammeke, recorded 12 points of his own throughout the course of the game.  

This match-up left the Tigers tied with Lincoln and Pittsburg State for 6th in MIAA standings.

With this new position, the Tigers headed into their second game of the week.  On Saturday the Tigers tipped off against the University of Central Missouri Mules.  The Tigers immediately jumped into the lead and held the position throughout the entire game.  FHSU led by as many as 39-points during the game.  They managed to go 58% from the field, while outrebounding the Mules 41-24.  Additionally, the Tigers were 45% from long-range and held the Mules to just 19.2% from beyond the arc.

Once again, Vitztum led the team in points scored with 23.  Sophomore, Bjarni Jonsson, and Hammeke each added 12 to the Tiger’s final victory of 84-48.  The 36-point defeat of the Mules gave the Tigers their greatest margin of victory in the series history between UCM and FHSU.  

Though the Tiger team made history in their second game, Vitztum’s strong weekend of play earned recognition on a conference-level.  On Monday, Vitztum was named MIAA Men’s Basketball Athlete of the Week for his performance.  The senior was recognized for his double-double average for the weekend as well as 73.8 shooting percentage from the field.  

After raining a total of 47 points in the two games and going 9-9 from the field during the UCM match-up, Vitztum earned the honor for the second time this season.  

According to men’s Head Basketball Coach, Mark Johnson, Vitztum’s high level of play on both sides of the ball is contributing to the team’s mentality as a whole.

“He’s playing at a high level, obviously, shooting the ball a little bit more like he did last year, getting to every rebound,” Johnson said.  “He’s just being more aggressive and I think that our whole team is feeding off of that and doing that.”

Riding the momentum of these team and individual successes, the Tigers prepare for a Tuesday evening game against the Missouri Western Griffons.  This evening, the Tigers will take on the Griffons in a home game scheduled as a make-up for the one postponed from Jan. 16.  

Last week, the 11-9 Griffons saw mixed success in their most recent road games.  After defeating Washburn last Thursday, they progressed to ultimately lose Saturday’s away game to Emporia State.  

Now, as they take on the Tigers for the second time this season, the Griffons are looking to sweep the regular-season series.  The last time the two teams met on Jan. 2, the Griffons defeated the Tigers 84-76.  

Heading into the game, the Griffons average 80.2 points per game.  They are shooting 43.6% from the field, 34.4% from long-range, and 69.2% from the free-throw line.  Comparatively, the Tigers currently average 75.8 points per game.  Meanwhile, they are 46.7% from the field, 38.5% from beyond the three-point arc, and 80.4% from the free-throw line.  

According to Johnson, the game against the team that leads the MIAA in rebounds and forced turnovers will not prove to be easy.  

“When they’re playing well, they’re one of the better teams in our league and one of the better teams in the region,” Johnson said.  

The Missouri Western team provides more than just a challenging opponent for the Tigers, however.  In fact, Johnson suggests that the Griffon’s position in the MIAA and the team’s level of play marks the standard to which he hopes his Tiger team can rise next season.

“We feel like we’re moving up but you’ve got to take advantage of right now and we’ve got some great games ahead of us,” Johnson said.

While a win over the Griffons may be essential for the Tigers to “move up” in the league, they must also be ready to take on their second opponent of the week.  On Saturday, the Tigers will come head to head with the team ranked No. 1 in the MIAA standings: the Northwest Missouri State Bearcats.  

The Bearcats are 19-1 this season, with their sole loss this season coming in overtime at the hands of Washburn.  Last Saturday, the Bearcats came against the Washburn team in yet another game that resulted in overtime play.  This time, however, the Bearcats found themselves on top when the final buzzer sounded.  

The team is now on a 14-game winning streak and is looking to defeat the Tigers for a second time this season.  When the two teams last played on Jan. 14, the Tigers came up short by seven points.  

Heading into Saturday’s game, the Bearcats averaged 79.6 points per game.  They are shooting 51.9% from the field, 42.0% from long-range, and 79.7% from the free-throw line.  Meanwhile, they record on average 32.8 rebounds and 11.5 turnovers per game.  

While the Tiger men’s team has a tough slate of opponents, the women’s team prepares for its own week of play.  

Like the Tiger men, the Tiger women are riding the momentum of two home victories last weekend.  These wins contributed to their 13 game winning streak.  After defeating both the Lincoln University Blue Tigers and the University Central Missouri Mules, the Tigers are 18-2 this season and 10-1 at home.  They have also achieved sole ownership of the No. 1 position in the MIAA standings.

The team’s path toward success began on Thursday night with a sound 74-43 victory over the Blue Tigers.  Following a slow first quarter, the Tigers outscored their opponent 23-4 in the second quarter.  They managed to extend their lead to a season record of 37-points during the third quarter.  Over the course of the game, the Tigers held Lincoln to just 25% shooting from the field while also forcing 18 turnovers.  

It was essential that the Tigers produce a similar level of play during last Saturday’s game in which they took on the University of Central Missouri Jennies.  Prior to the game, the Jennies and Tigers were tied for the No. 1 position in the MIAA.  

After a slow first quarter in which they were down by as many as 10 points, the Tigers managed to go 50% from the floor.  

The Tigers ultimately emerged victorious with a final score of 72-63.  Seniors, Jaden Hobbs and Whitney Randall, led the team scoring effort with 16 and 15 points each respectively.  Meanwhile, freshmen, Katie Wagner and Jessie Sallach, added 12 and 10 points.  

Now, with the league championship title in sight, women’s basketball head coach, Tony Hobson, emphasizes the general theme of maintaining focus for his team’s upcoming week.

“It’s difficult to get to this position because it’s just a year-long process,” Hobson said.  “Probably the hardest thing about trying to win the league is just finishing it off and not losing your focus and concentration.  You have it right in front of you.  You just have to continue what you’ve been doing and you just can’t let off and you can’t lose your focus.”

As the Tigers prepare with this energy, they will first take on the Missouri Western Griffons on Saturday.  The Griffons are currently 6-13 after losing their last two games to Washburn and Emporia State.  

Following this performance last weekend, the Tigers average 72.5 points per game and shoot 44.4% from the field, 33.7% from long-range, and 75.1% from the free-throw line.  Meanwhile, the Griffons average 60.3-points per game.  They are currently shooting 38.5% from the field, 29.2% from beyond the three-point arc, and 67.1% from the free-throw line.  

In preparing for this game, the Tigers are looking to sweep the regular home-away series after last defeating the Griffons 58-49 on Feb. 8.  

While the score of the previous meeting may not reflect it, Hobson suggests that Missouri Western has improved its game on both sides of the ball throughout the season.  While the Griffons bring more pressure offensively, they have also improved the defensive effort of their relatively young team.  

“Defensively, they’ve kind of gelled,” Hobson said.  “I’ve always said that throughout the season, a team has a lot more opportunity to get better defensively than offensively and their defense has just come along and gotten tougher and tougher as the season’s gone along.”

What’s more, the Missouri Western team is still hungry for a spot in the conference tournament.  

“They’re still excited about playing the season,” Hobson said.  “A lot of times, you get teams that are looking forward to the season being over and that’s what I wish they were but they’re not.”

Following their Thursday evening game, the Tigers will take on another team fighting for a spot in the MIAA tournament in their Saturday road game against the Northwest Missouri State Bearcats.  Since the Tigers last beat the Bearcats 74-49 in Hays, the Bearcats have gone 7-12 this season.  

The Bearcats are fighting back from a two-game losing streak after falling to both Washburn and Emporia State last weekend.  The team will take on Washburn for a second time this evening as well.  

Despite these losses, the Bearcats are averaging 55.3 points per game.  Meanwhile, they are shooting 36.9% from the field, 29.7% from beyond the three-point arc, and 75.0% from the free-throw line.  

As both Tiger teams work to finish the regular season on a strong note, they can always use the support of Tiger fans.  Head to GMC on Tuesday to watch the Tiger men’s team take on the Griffons in the last home game of the season at 5:30 p.m.  

Even as the teams hit the road for Missouri later in the week, the Tiger basketball games can be viewed on the MIAA Network.  On Thursday, the women will tip off against Missouri Western at 5:30 p.m. while Saturday both teams will play with the Tiger women starting at 1:30 p.m. and the men following at 3:30 p.m. against Northwest Missouri State.  

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