After leading from the jump, relinquishing control to Lindenwood late in Tuesday’s MIAA Tournament opener might have spelled disaster for the Fort Hays State men.
Fortunately, the Tigers made sure it didn't get to that point.
FHSU never trailed after grabbing the lead 17 seconds into the game, but the Tigers did have to answer several mini runs from Lindenwood along the way during a 71-65 win at Gross Memorial Coliseum.
Fort Hays (18-11) saw its lead shrink to two late before Trey O’Neil gave the Tigers some breathing room on a 3-pointer with 1:49 left. FHSU then put away the Lions with free throws, advancing to face Missouri Southern in the MIAA Tournament quarterfinals at 2:15 p.m. Friday at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, Mo.
“That’s postseason basketball at any level of basketball — high school, college, pros,” O’Neil said. “Postseason basketball is going to come down to the last minute. We were lucky enough and fortunate enough to come out with a win.”
Tiger coach Mark Johnson credited his team for answering every run and keeping the Lions at bay down the stretch.
“We had the lead pretty much the whole time, and that was key,” Johnson said. “They would cut it to maybe three or four, but we never let them tie or get ahead. Trey on two occasions hit big threes, and Brady Werth had a couple possessions inside where he finished. It just relaxes you.
“When you have the lead the whole game, and then they tie or take the lead, your confidence goes down. We never got to that point where we got a little nervous.”
The Tigers led 29-22 and opened up a 14-point lead early in the second half, but Lindenwood guard Brad Newman, who scored a game-high 26, led the Lions back to within striking distance.
A 3-pointer by Jackson Price pulled Lindenwood to within two with 2:19 left, but O’Neil put the momentum back on the Tigers’ side with his fourth 3-pointer of the night.
“It was late in the shot clock and Hadley (Gillum) had it,” O’Neil said. “Hadley knows where to find me late in the shot clock. I’d told him I’d always be there. He made the pass and I was lucky enough to make the shot.”
Gillum, who earned second-team All-MIAA honors earlier in the day, posted a double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds in his final game at Gross. With his 11 boards, Gillum became the ninth player in Tiger history to record 1,000 points and 500 rebounds in a career
O’Neil added 16 while Werth chipped in 14.
Lindenwood stayed in the game by hitting 22 of 27 free throws but were held to just 18 of 43 from the field and 7 of 22 from 3-point range.
“I thought we did a really good job,” Johnson said. “We’re not always the most athletic team out there and Newman put his head down there and drove it. We just had a hard time keeping in front of him, but I think we did a good job of not letting them make a bunch of 3s.”
Price finished with 20 points and Adam Pohlman added 11 for Lindenwood, which finished its season 16-13.