KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Hadley Gillum’s career was hanging in the balance, but the lone Tiger senior was doing his best not to overthink the moment.
With the Fort Hays State University men’s basketball team down by a point in the final seconds of overtime in Friday’s MIAA Tournament quarterfinal against Missouri Southern, Gillum grabbed an offensive rebound and was fouled with 1.3 left on the clock, putting his basketball fate on his shoulders.
“I didn’t hype it up at all,” Gillum said of the free throws. “I just treated it like any other free throws and did what I’ve done since I started playing basketball.”
And just like he’s done throughout his career, the Plainville product came through.
Gillum drained both free throws and Missouri Southern wasn’t able to get a shot off after a full-court pass as FHSU claimed an 86-85 thriller over the No. 2-seeded Lions at Municipal Auditorium. The Tigers (19-11) will meet Washburn at 6 p.m. on Saturday with a spot in the title game on the line.
“Obviously it was a great game,” FHSU coach Mark Johnson said. “For the most part it was back and forth for the entire 45 minutes. I don’t think either team had a big, big lead. From a fan perspective, I would have to think it was a pretty entertaining game.”
The game featured 21 ties and 28 lead changes, with the lead switching hands five times in the extra session alone.
Southern grabbed an 85-84 lead with 47 seconds left in OT and FHSU missed on its next possession but retained the ball after the Lions tipped it out of bounds. The Tigers then drew up a play for Marcus Cooper, who scored all 23 of his points in the second half.
Cooper missed a driving layup but Gillum grabbed the board and was hacked going up.
“Second-chance points, coach always preaches on it,” Gillum said. “We’ve been beat on it before. That’s what we were going for — go up and get the rebound.”
Johnson found irony in the fact that an offensive rebound paved the way for a Tigers win after they were outboarded 52-32 and gave up 19 offensive boards to Southern.
“Kind of the funny part of the game. We got killed on the offensive glass the whole game,” Johnson said. “If we didn’t get beat on the offensive glass we probably have a double-figure lead.
“Lo and behold, we win on an offensive rebound.”
Gillum led the Tigers with 26 points, going 9 of 10 from the field and 8 of 10 from the foul line.
“Since it is my senior year and I’m playing my last games right here, I think it gives you a little bit of energy," Gillum said. "I think you kick in that adrenaline and it helps you push through a long game like that.”
While Gillum played the role of hero, the Tigers might not have been in position for those heroics if it wasn’t for Cooper, who attempted just two shots in the first half as the Tigers trailed 34-30 at the break.
He went 9 of 15 from the field after halftime and hurt the Lions driving to the basket.
“Without Marcus, I don’t that the outcome would have been the same,” Gillum said. “He just stepped up and played ball.”
Both teams had their chances to win in regulation. Southern’s Kinzer Lambert hit one of two free throws with eight second left to tie it. FHSU’s Kyler Kinnamon then went driving into the lane and appeared to make contact with a Southern player but a foul wasn't called and the ball was blocked out of bounds with 1.2 seconds left. Gillum then missed an off balance 3-pointer at the end of regulation to keep it tied.
“Having kind of a heartbreak at the end (of regulation) and not being able to finish the game and then go to overtime and still be able to respond and win the game, I think that’s the toughness of Fort Hays State basketball players for sure,” Johnson said.
FHSU went 32 of 71 from the floor while Southern (20-9) was 26 of 65 from the field and 4 of 23 from 3-point range. First-team All-MIAA pick CJ Carr led the Lions with a game-high 28 points.
Brady Werth joined Gillum and Cooper in double figures with 16 points for FHSU.
“They pose some problems with Gillum and his ability to play inside and out,” Southern coach Jeff Boschee said. “They did a great job on their high-low stuff. Being able to knock down the 15-footers, they made our bigs come out and posed some problems in the post.
“Marcus Cooper was really good for them in the second half. He really caused some problems for us.”
Washburn (21-8) advanced to the semifinals with a 75-65 win over Nebraska-Kearney in Friday’s first quarterfinal. The Ichabods are led by senior forward Brady Skeens, a first-team All-MIAA pick. WU handed FHSU a 69-58 loss on Dec. 6 in Hays.
“You got to be able to handle their pressure,” Johnson said. “They got us at our place. They’re really athletic. They really do a good job of pressuring you on your end and make it hard to make the next pass.
“We’re going to have to handle that, and then obviously Brady Skeens is a matchup problem and that opens it up for others. They shot it really well at our place and they shot it really well today. When they shoot it well from 3 they’re a hard team to beat. Hopefully we’ll handle their pressure better, we’ll play good defense and they’ll miss a little more.”