BY CAYDEN SANDERS
An old RMAC foe returned to Gross Memorial Coliseum on Sunday afternoon as the Metro State – Denver Roadrunners took on the Fort Hays State men’s basketball team. The contest came down to the final possession; however, the Tigers ultimately prevailed 68-66.
“The game of basketball is a game of runs; if you get a turnover, it can start or get one shot. It will move throughout your entire team,” FHSU Head Coach Mark Johnson said. “I think we played a really good game. We stayed true to who we are, but our defense could have been better today, and we could not have been in a dogfight.”
Metro State is traditionally a competitive team, as they have the third-best winning percentage in DII history, entering the game having won 69.9% of their games in program history. As Johnson said, the game between FHSU and MSU-Denver was a dogfight.
FHSU started the game with eight points in the first three minutes, but after a Tyrei Randall three-point shot pulled MSU back within one, 11-10. FHSU pushed their lead back to 21-15 midway through the first half, but the Roadrunners reeled the Tigers back in before taking a one-point lead into halftime, 31-30.
In the second half, the Tigers and Roadrunners went basket for basket in the first four minutes before Fort Hays went on a scoring stretch that found the Tigers up 44-37. However, Kaleb McGill and Metro State had a run of their own to pull MSU-Denver back within three, 56-53. McGill led all scorers in the game with 22 points on 8-17 shooting.
“McGill is one of the best post players we have played this season and probably will play this year,” Johnson said. “He wasn’t the main player we were worried about but showed that he can score all over the floor.”
After FHSU stretched its lead to 10 points with just under nine minutes left in the second half, McGill and the Roadrunners made their way back and pulled within one point with 54 seconds left after a McGill three and then again with a McGill dunk with seven seconds left.
FHSU’s Kaleb Hammeke made two free throws to push the Tiger lead to three. FHSU chose to foul and force MSU to shoot free throws in the waning seconds of the game, but the Roadrunners intentionally missed their second attempt and had a chance to tie the game. However, MSU missed two shots as time expired, securing the win for FHSU.
The Tigers were led in scoring by sophomore guard Elijah Nnanabu, who scored 14 points on 6-16 shooting.
“I just saw a lot of opportunities to drive,” Nnanabu said. “Coach is always telling me to be aggressive, so I just tried to do that and make smart decisions off that and if they stopped me, then I [have] open teammates. You have to take advantage when you can.”
Three other Tigers scored in double figures in the game: Iyen Enaruna, Kaleb Hammeke, and Bjarni Jonsson earned 13, 12, and 10 points, respectively. Enaruna played an important role on the floor for the Tigers in this game, as he earned six rebounds, three rebounds, a block, and an assist.
“Iyen has been a key piece to this team. He has been dealing with a knee injury that he’s trying to play through,” Johnson said. “I think he had a great game today and had some key plays that gave us some confidence and some runs.”
Hammeke, a leader of this team, helped contribute to the win as he collected three steals, four assists, and three rebounds.
“Playing with a backcourt that has Kaleb [Hammeke], Jahiem [Holden], along with me, is a dangerous backcourt,” Nnanabu said, “Any night one of us will go off, as we have proven this season and I hope we continue to build upon what we have only four games in.”
Holden was the top scorer in the game against Bethel but earned seven points from the floor in this game.
“I had a huge game against Bethel, and tonight I supported the guys that were hot; that’s how this team has to play,” Holden said. “We just have to keep grinding and putting in work to achieve this team’s goals.”
The Fort Hays State Tigers move to 2-2 on the season and pick up their second win of the season at home. The Tigers are back at home against NAIA Central Christian to continue “Hoopsgiving” at Gross Memorial Coliseum tomorrow evening. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:00 p.m.