Tiger men win final home game
Published on -2/26/2012, 8:34 AM
Senior guard Sean Dreiling and senior forward Matt Simmons had to bide their time in the Fort Hays State University men’s basketball program. Dreiling redshirted as a freshman and then was on the bench for most of three years. He logged just 173 career minutes, 16 assists and 68 points in his first four seasons.
Simmons, a Great Bend product, transferred from Barton County Community College, then redshirted the 2009-10 season.
Coach Mark Johnson asked Simmons to lose weight and was uncertain if the forward would ever see significant minutes. Last year, Simmons surprised the program when he collected 6.4 rebounds in 20.1 minutes per game off the bench.
This season, Dreiling and Simmons’ hard work and years in the program has paid off with solid seasons. On Saturday, the duo capped their home careers when they led the Tigers to a 73-48 victory on Senior Night against rival Emporia State University at Gross Memorial Coliseum.
Dreiling played a career-high 29 minutes and finished with season-high 12 points. He also tied his career-best in assists (four) and steals (two).
“It’s an emotional time,” Dreiling said. “I was fighting back tears at the beginning. I love these guys like they are my brothers – they are my brothers.”
Dreiling has logged substantial minutes after junior guard Tyrone Phillips left the team in early February. For the season, he has totals that nearly match or better his first four years in the program: 283 minutes played, 60 points and 41 assists.
“The longer you are in the program, the more benefits you see and I am really happy for Sean,” coach Mark Johnson said. “He is a great kid. Works hard. Great teammate and even when he was not playing, he was cheering everybody on as loud as he could. I am so happy for him that he has getting rewarded and that he is getting to play – and not only get to play, but play really well. In these last two games in his senior year at home, he looked as good as anybody on the floor.”
Simmons, arguably the MIAA’s most indispensable player, finished with another big game. He played 36 minutes and tallied 17 points and 10 rebounds, all game-bests. Simmons, the MIAA’s leading rebounder and shot blocker, had his fourth straight double-double and eighth straight game with at least nine rebounds. Johnson called him the MIAA Defensive Player of the Year and the best defensive rebounder he has ever coached.
“I have had an amazing journey from fourth grade until now,” Simmons said. “My journey didn’t just start when I got here, but the journey when I did here is amazing, and I thank coach for giving me the opportunity to play here.”
Despite several obstacles, including several suspensions and injuries and no standout scorer, Fort Hays finished 18-8 overall and 12-8 in the MIAA. The Tigers placed fifth in the conference, the fifth straight top-five showing for the program. FHSU will face fourth-seeded Missouri Southern State University (22-6, 14-6 MIAA) in the first round of the conference tournament Friday at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, Mo.
“It shows that these guys want to win,” Simmons said. “It shows how competitive we are, and we are a bunch of fighters. We have had some ups and downs this year and we are just a bunch of fighters. I have never been on a team quite like this.”
Senior Karron McKenzie led the Tigers with 11.8 points per game, the second-lowest average by a leading scorer in school history. In 1992-93, Allen Craft averaged 10.5 points a night on a 12-16 team.
“Our guys are figuring out how we need to win,” Johnson said of a team that holds opponents to 64 points a contest. “Guarding it and guarding people and making it hard on the other team. Any night, it is going to be somebody else. I don’t know if we have necessarily a true go-to guy.”
The Tigers’ other three seniors – guards Moses Dayee, McKenzie and forward K.C. Rodenburg – started alongside Dreiling and Simmons. Dayee and McKenzie, from New York, each had their families make a rare long trip to Hays. Dayee had nine points, while McKenzie tacked on eight points and six assists.
“I think they were probably a little more emotional than the other guys,” Johnson said.
Rodenburg, a first-year transfer from NCAA Division I University of South Dakota, started for the first time in his career and scored
five points, one off his career high, in five minutes.
“He is an exceptional person, he is a great guy,” Johnson said. “Everybody would like to play more, but he doesn’t let that affect him.
He is a great teammate, cheers the guys on, has done a great job for us. … He can shoot the ball. He is a good athlete and I was really happy at the end of the game, he made two baskets.”
Fort Hays fell down by nine points early, but came back to lead 29-23 at halftime. The game turned ugly in the second half when Emporia State picked up a technical foul and an intentional foul. Senior Troy Pierce led the Hornets with 16 points.
Fort Hays stretched the lead throughout the second half and Johnson pulled the starters with 1:42 remaining and FHSU leading 71-44. The 4,523 fans gave the seniors a standing ovation.
“We by far have the greatest fans in the MIAA,” Simmons said. “It’s a good feeling to go out on a win and have a good performance.”