KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Mark Johnson was convinced heading into the MIAA Tournament that Washburn would be the toughest matchup for his Fort Hays State University men’s basketball team.
His concern proved to be valid in Saturday night’s semifinal, with Fort Hays State getting overmatched by the Ichabods in a season-ending 77-53 loss at Municipal Auditorium.
“I really thought Washburn played well,” Johnson said. “They got after us defensively and made it a hard game for us. Going into this tournament, I would say of the other seven teams, I kinda knew Washburn was our most challenging matchup — just with how we have to play and who we have to play through and what kind of deterrents they give us. They’re a challenging matchup and we had to play really well today.
“They’re good and they made it difficult on us. Just outplayed us.”
Washburn (22-8) was in control for the start, jumping out to a 14-4 lead and opening up a 41-20 advantage by halftime.
A day after pulling out an 86-85 overtime win against No. 2-seeded Missouri Southern, FHSU (19-12) struggled to get off clean looks against WU’s length and athleticism. The Tigers shot just 31 percent from the field (15 of 49).
“They’re obviously into you every play,” Tiger senior forward Hadley Gillum said. “You have to work to get open, fight over the top of everything. It does make it tough for 40 minutes.”
WU first-team All-MIAA pick Brady Skeens went 9 of 9 of the field and scored a game-high 24 points, and the Bods also got a lift inside from David Salach, who added 14.
Gillum and Brady Werth led the Tigers with a hard-earned 10 points apiece.
“Hadley Gillum and Brady Werth are two of the better players in our league,” WU first-year coach Brett Ballard said. “(The Tigers) have great kids, great people. They had a really good year. Gillum was a monster all year. I want to give those guys credit on a great year.”
Gillum’s standout career ended when the Plainville product fouled out with nine minutes left. Gillum is one of nine players in Tiger history to record 1,000 points and 500 rebounds in a career.
“We’ll be sad to see him leave for sure,” Johnson said. “Wish he had more time with us.”
Johnson said he wants the Tigers to take pride in their accomplishments for the 2017-18 season.
“These guys got as many wins out of themselves as they could have, I think,” FHSU coach Mark Johnson said. “The character they have, the toughness, the resiliency, doing the right thing on most possessions on offense and defense — for the guys to win 19 games I think is a pretty good accomplishment on their part.
“Obviously we want to be the team in the championship playing for the title. We want to be a team competing for a championship in the MIAA regular season, but I think this group got the most out of themselves as they possibly could have and that’s a testament to their character and the type of people they are.”