BY MAKENNA ALLEN
PHOTO BY SCOTT WEAVER – K-STATE ATHLETICS
Last night in Bramlage Coliseum, the FHSU men’s basketball team broke 82 years of history with an 81-68 victory over the Kansas State Wildcats. The Tigers had not defeated the Wildcats since the first two meetings in 1936 and 1938.
The game counted as an exhibition for the FHSU team that already has a full schedule of MIAA conference games. However, the K-State official season record will show a loss to the Tiger team that replaced a cancelled game with Butler University.
This last-minute match-up landed on the Tigers’ schedule over the weekend. To further complicate the process, the Tiger team learned on Monday night that both head coach, Mark Johnson and assistant head coach, Jeremy Brown, would not be able to attend the game due to COVID-19 protocols. This left assistant head coach Todd Johnston as the head coach for the team’s first meeting with the Wildcats since the 2017-2018 season.
For Johnston, the development left him with a mixture of excitement and nerves.
“It isn’t what I was expecting, to be the head coach here for us tonight,” Johnston said. “It was kind of a shock but a little bit of excitement as well.”
This excitement translated into confidence on the court as the Tigers immediately brought an aggressive game to Manhattan. The Tigers never trailed throughout the night and demonstrated balance offensively as all scoring was accomplished by six players, all of whom finished with double figures.
Senior forward Jared Vitzum led the team with 16 points, followed closely by redshirt freshman guard Kaleb Hammeke’s 14 points. Rounding out the scoring for the night were Alvin Thompson, Quinten Rock, Bjarni Jonsson, and Gilbert Peters.
The combined effort of these players led to an upset that made FHSU the first non-Division I team to beat a major conference team on the road since 2000.
Ultimately, Johnston hopes that this momentum and confidence will translate into regular season play in which the Tigers are currently 0-3.
“We’re 0-3 but we’re talented. We’re young and we’re inexperienced. Some of the experienced guys we have coming back from last year are in a completely different role this year so it’s still kind of new for them. We just haven’t figured out how to win a game,” Johnston said. “I hope that this carries over and helps us win games in the future. I think that for the confidence and mentally for these guys to see that and pull off a game was huge.”
While the upset of the now 1-4 K-State team may be the key to unlocking the Tigers’ confidence, Johnston believes the FHSU team has always possessed potential for success.
“This is a very unselfish team. They hang out a lot together off the floor. They like each other. They joke around with each other,” Johnston said. “This is a fun group to coach and I think they play that way on the floor offensively for the most part. I think we’ve got some talented guys too. When you combine that, they share the ball, they play well together, and they enjoy playing together, that’s exciting to see.”
With this mentality of unity and confidence, the Tigers will travel to Newman University this Saturday looking for their first conference victory of the season. Tip-off is set for 5:30 p.m.