Men’s basketball starts season with 73-55 exhibition loss to KU

Tiger Media Network


Playing inside historic Allen Fieldhouse, the Fort Hays State University men’s basketball team fell to the Kansas Jayhawks 73-55 in their first contest of the season.

“Any time you play against these kinds of guys, they put stress on you on both ends of the floor,” FHSU Head Coach Mark Johnson said. “It’s good for our guys to be able to get out there and compete against them.”

The Tigers trailed the entire game, struggling on the offensive end. They made just eight shots in the first half, ending the period shooting just 26.7% from the floor. The Jayhawks went to the locker room up 43-23 behind a 13-25 shooting performance from the field.

“I thought we played really well the first six or seven minutes of the game, we were just so nervous we couldn’t make a shot,” Johnson said.

FHSU fared a little better in the second half, even outscoring the Jayhawks by two points, 32-30. They finished the game shooting 33.3% overall, 35% from beyond the arc and 62.5% from the free throw line. 

The Jayhawks bested the Tigers in overall scoring and free throws, finishing with 45.3% and 73.1%. Kansas made one less three-pointer, going 6-28 for 21.4%. Four of the team’s three-pointers came from Kevin McCullar Jr., who led the Jayhawks with 21 points.

FHSU pulled down 32 rebounds to Kansas’ 42, and each team had 13 turnovers.

“I think the thing we did the best was we competed on the glass at a high rate against them and their size,” Johnson said. “So I thought our guys did a really good job on the glass, and we weren’t too terrible on turnovers.”

In regards to forcing 13 turnovers, FHSU guard Kaleb Hammeke spoke of the team’s consistent defensive focus.

“The last few years we’ve been proud of our defense and our defense has been our staple,” he said. “We try to fly around every day, work each other up and work as hard as we can every single day. Defense is what we rely on night in and night out, so it’s what we hope we could do to these kinds of guys.”

The Tigers were led by Elijah Nnanabu who finished with 14 points and six rebounds. Traejon Davis and Hammeke were the next highest scoring, recording nine and eight points, respectively.

They were joined on the court by a combination of returning and new players. In total, the Tigers returned eight players to their roster and added six in the offseason – four transfers and two freshmen.

“Everybody that’s come in new has come from different schools and backgrounds, so it is a big adjustment with their playing styles to ours,” Nnanabu said. “They really get after it.”

Hammeke shared the same sentiment about his new teammates.

“They’re working hard every day in practice, they’re competing with us every single day,” he said. “On and off the court everyone’s relationship is just fine so we’re looking forward to this year.”

In total, 14 Tigers saw the floor during the game, with nine of them finishing with over 15 minutes of playing time.  

“Depth can either be a great strength or a great weakness, and we’ve got to use it as a great strength,” Johnson said.

The exhibition game was the 13th meeting between the two teams. FHSU is coming off a 21-9 season, including a 15-7 record in the MIAA in 2022-23, and are ranked third and fourth in the MIAA coaches and media preseason polls. 

Kansas finished last season with records of 28-8 overall and a 13-5 mark in the Big 12. The Jayhawks enter this season at the top of the AP Preseason Top 25 Poll. 

FHSU will open up regular season play against Southwestern Oklahoma State on Nov. 10 in Emporia.