No. 3 Tigers Squander Big Lead and Fall 77-75 to No. 5 Griffons in St. Joseph

FHSU Sports Information Department

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. – Fort Hays State held an 18-point halftime lead but let its big lead slip away in the second half and fell 77-75 at Missouri Western on Thursday evening (Jan. 21). The No. 3 ranked Tigers slipped to 16-2 overall and 10-2 in the MIAA, while the No. 5 Griffons remained unbeaten on the year at 18-0 and 12-0 in the MIAA.

The game was a tale of two halves. Fort Hays State had a golden opportunity to put Missouri Western away, but did not start the second half well and momentum shifted completely, unable to hold off the home team’s charge in the end. FHSU shot 50 percent from the field in the first half and led 51-33. The Tiger defense limited one of the nation’s top scoring offenses to just 34.4 percent shooting from the field in the opening half, including a dismal 1-of-8 effort beyond the 3-point line.

In the second half the 3-point shots started to drop for MWSU, going 5-of-6 from deep after the break. The last 3-point make would turn out to be the dagger in the end.

FHSU came out flat in the second half, going scoreless for nearly four minutes. Luckily, MWSU struggled early in the second half as well and FHSU led by 17 twice before MWSU made its big run. A 6-0 Griffon run cut the lead to 11 and then a 10-2 run cut the lead down to just five by the end of the third quarter. FHSU shot a dismal 4-of-18 from the field in the third quarter.

With the Griffons all the way back in the game and a quarter to play, the Tigers could not find enough stops to hold on for the win in the end. Nikola Kacperska hit two 3-point field goals that could have served as back-breakers for the Griffons in the final period, but the Griffons had a 3-point answer each time to keep the pressure applied. Kacperska hit a 3-pointer with 8:20 to go to put FHSU up nine, but Missouri Western’s Chelsea Dewey answered with a 3-pointer 17 seconds later to make the lead six. With FHSU leading by two with 4:20 to go, Kacperska nailed another bomb to put FHSU up five, but Julia Torres hit a 3-pointer 12 seconds later to cut it back to two.

The Kacperska 3-point field goal was the last field goal the Tigers made in the game before a desperation heave at the buzzer. The Tigers went cold in crunch time when they needed to hit shots and their defense was not enough to hold off the opponent this time.

After MWSU tied the game with 2:26 to play, Taylor Chandler sunk one of two free-throws to give FHSU the lead back by one. But Sarafina Handy delivered the big blow with just over 30 seconds to play as she hit a deep 3-pointer to push MWSU into the lead by two, 74-72. FHSU missed a 3-point attempt to try and get the lead back, MWSU hit 1-of-2 free-throws, and FHSU missed a potential game-tying 3-point attempt with about five seconds to play. The Griffons put the game on ice with a pair of free-throws, but Beth Bohuslavsky made the final margin two points by draining a half-court shot at the buzzer.

Chelsea Mason led the scoring effort for FHSU with 14 points, but scored all of it in the first quarter. She went 0-of-6 from the field the remainder of the game after a 5-of-9 effort in the opening quarter with three 3-point field goals. Chandler, Bohuslavsky, and Kacperska all had 11 points. Jill Faxon and Paige Lunsford each had a team-high six rebounds.

LaQuinta Jefferson led the Griffons with 18 points, while Handy added 15. The Griffons outrebounded FHSU 50-35 and pulled down 17 offensive rebounds. That helped offset FHSU forcing 16 turnovers. The Griffons just shot the ball too well in the second half, 54.5 percent from the field and 83.3 percent beyond the 3-point line.

It was a tough loss to take for the Tigers, considering they led by 20 just before halftime. FHSU led from the 3:01 mark of the first quarter all the way until MWSU tied the game with 2:26 to play.

Now down two games in the MIAA standings, the Tigers will need to focus on keeping within striking distance of MWSU at the top. FHSU faces Northwest Missouri State on Saturday (Jan. 23) in Maryville, a team coming off its first conference win of the season on Thursday night. Game time is set for 1:30 pm on Saturday.

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