BY TRISTAN SASSE
PHOTO COURTESY OF FHSU ATHLETICS
In the First Round of the Division II NCAA Tournament, the No. 6 seeded Fort Hays State University Tigers defeated the No. 3 seed Southwestern Oklahoma State 78-75 from Sioux Falls, South Dakota. After one of its worst shooting performances of the season in the MIAA Championship against Lindenwood, FHSU responded by connecting on nearly 46% of their attempts from the field to come away with the victory.
The Tigers move to 3-3 all-time in the NCAA Tournament with both of their other wins occurring in 2015. Additionally, FHSU improves to 4-0 all-time against Southwestern Oklahoma State. This season marks the fourth time in program history Fort Hays has won at least 25 games in a season.
Both teams struggled from the field in the early going and the match was tied at 5, four minutes into the game. FHSU answered with a 9-0 run to take a 14-5 advantage near the end of the opening quarter. Southwestern Oklahoma State responded with a 4-0 run to end the quarter, but the Tigers led 14-9 after one.
Fort Hays shot 5-for-18 in the first quarter, but SWOSU was 4-for-20, including 1-of-8 from three-point range. Additionally, FHSU had 18 rebounds in the opening quarter. Kacey Kennett led the Tigers with five points and seven first-quarter rebounds.
Early in the second quarter, the Tigers took a 16-9 lead, but three straight three-pointers and a layup sparked an 11-0 Bulldog run to give them a 20-16 advantage. Midway through the second quarter, Southwestern Oklahoma State held a slight 29-25 margin. FHSU ended the quarter with a 7-2 spurt though and went into halftime with a 32-31 lead.
In the first half, Fort Hays shot 34.3% while SWOSU was at 30%. FHSU also outrebounded the Bulldogs 30-23. Additionally, the Tigers had nine assists, but only forced four first-half turnovers.
Kennett led all players with 10 points and 11 rebounds in the first half. Belle Barbieri added seven points and seven rebounds off the bench, while Tatyana Legette and Taylor Rolfs each finished the first half with five points.
For Southwestern Oklahoma State, Hailey Tucker and Hayden Priddy each had nine points. Tyra Aska added eight points and four rebounds.
FHSU opened the second half with an 8-4 burst to take a 40-35 lead. The Tigers grew the margin to seven, but SWOSU responded with a 7-0 run to tie the score at 46 midway through the quarter. Teams continued to trade baskets for the remainder of the quarter, but Fort Hays went into the final period with a 61-56 advantage.
The Tigers increased their lead to nine early in the fourth, but Southwestern Oklahoma State answered with an 8-0 run. FHSU held a 65-64 lead with under eight minutes to play. Moments later, the Bulldogs regained the edge, 69-68.
With four minutes to go, the score was knotted at 71. A three by the Tigers gave them a 74-71 lead shortly after. Less than a minute remained in regulation and FHSU still held a 76-75 advantage. A pair of late free throws iced a 78-75 victory for Fort Hays.
By the Numbers
On the afternoon, the Tigers shot 45.9% while holding the Bulldogs to 36.5%, including 9-of-30 from three-point range. FHSU dominated the rebounding battle 48-35 and finished with 17 assists, but had 17 turnovers.
For the Tigers, Kennett finished with 20 points (tied career high) and a personal best 14 rebounds. Legette added 14 points and six rebounds while Barbieri had 10 points and nine rebounds off the bench. Taylor Rolfs and Emma Stroyan added 10 points each.
On the other side, Aska had a game-high 21 points and six rebounds. Tucker finished with 19 points and four rebounds, while Priddy added 18 points. Bethany Franks had six rebounds.
FHSU (26-6) will face No. 2 Central Missouri (24-3) or No. 7 Minnesota State M’head (23-5) on Saturday, March 10 at 5 PM in the Central Regional Semifinals. Meanwhile, Southwestern Oklahoma State finishes its season at 26-5.