FHSU Sports Information Department
HAYS, Kan. – Fort Hays State trailed by 14 with 6:10 to go in the third quarter, but defended hard for the final 16 minutes of regulation and forced overtime in a grind-it-out battle at Gross Memorial Coliseum on Saturday (Jan. 16). The No. 3 ranked Tigers used free-throws to hold off UCO 59-56 in the extra period, moving to 16-1 overall and 10-1 in the MIAA.
The Tigers struggled all day from the field, shooting just 25 percent as a team. But once again turnovers were key in getting more offensive possessions as FHSU forced UCO into 24 and committed just 11. After UCO shot well in the first half (41.9 percent) to hold a 10-point lead of 34-24, the Tigers held the Bronchos to just 13 percent shooting in the second half (3-of-23) to come all the way back from a 14-point deficit. UCO shot just 16.7 percent after halftime, which included overtime.
On the ropes in their home building, the Tigers put up an amazing fight over the final 16 minutes of regulation. Paige Lunsford started the comeback by hitting a layup with 5:56 to go in the third quarter. Jill Faxon then found her stroke burying three consecutive 3-point attempts to pull the Tigers all the way back within three with 2:27 to go in the third, the eventual margin heading into the fourth quarter.
UCO (12-5, 6-5 MIAA) went without a field goal for over nine minutes until Jordan Ward hit a layup with 7:08 remaining in the game to push its lead back to six. But the Tigers kept chipping away as they held UCO without a field goal the remainder of the fourth quarter, even without their floor general Beth Bohuslavsky who fouled out 6:03 to play.
Paige Lunsford, having a career afternoon offensively, willed the Tigers into the lead with 1:05 to play. After she hit two free-throws to cut the UCO lead to one at the 2:52 mark, she hit a running layup to push the Tigers in front just before the minute mark.
After UCO missed a layup, it was forced to foul. Nikola Kacperska hit one of two free-throws to make it a two-point FHSU lead with 21 seconds to go. UCO’s Olivia Mason was fouled on a shot with seven seconds remaining and she hit both free-throws to tie the game at 49-49. A Chelsea Mason shot in close was off the mark just before the buzzer, but a foul was called after Elle Stein secured the rebound and went for a stick-back attempt. After officials went to the monitor, it was determined the foul occurred after the buzzer, which forced overtime.
The Bronchos took a four-point lead at the 3:23 mark of overtime on a Haley Weathers 3-point field goal, but Chelsea Mason answered with a three of her own to cut it back to one immediately. Stein pushed the Tigers back in front for good with a layup at the 2:24 mark. FHSU held UCO without a field goal over the final three minutes of overtime and Lunsford and Kacperska knocked in foul shots to get the lead to three twice. A desperation 3-point heave by Julia Mason of UCO was off the mark just before the buzzer as FHSU survived the intense battle.
Lunsford carried the Tigers with a career-high 22 points on 6-of-13 shooting from the field, including two 3-pointers, and an 8-of-12 effort at the free-throw line. Faxon gritted out a double-double of 13 points and 12 rebounds. Kacperska added nine points, hitting 5-of-6 free-throw attempts.
Weathers led UCO with 15 points, while McKenzie Solberg added 11 points and nine rebounds, and Olivia Mason had 10 points. UCO finished just 29.5 percent overall from the field.
The Tigers now rest up and get ready for a battle for first place in the conference on Thursday (Jan. 21) at Missouri Western in St. Joseph. The No. 10 ranked Griffons defeated No. 9 ranked Emporia State by nine in Emporia on Saturday, keeping their undefeated record for the season and one-game lead over FHSU in the conference standings. FHSU can tie the Griffons for the conference lead with a win on Thursday. Emporia State dropped two games behind the Tigers and three games back of the Griffons in the conference standings with the loss.