Mired in a shooting slump for much of the first half of the season, Jared Vitztum has been encouraged by his coaches and teammates to keep shooting aggressively.
The confidence in Vitztum paid off Saturday against Central Oklahoma, with the sophomore forward delivering his best game as a Tiger.
Vitztum scored a career-high 20 points and knocked down five 3-pointers, helping the Tigers pick up a solid 90-84 win over Central Oklahoma on Saturday at Gross Memorial Coliseum.
“It felt really great,” the Thomas More Prep-Marian product said. “I’ve been just working really hard on defense and rebounding and just playing hard. The shot was finally working for me. It felt good to a knock a few in.”
Vitztum finished 7 of 9 from the field and 5 of 7 from beyond the arc while also pulling down 12 rebounds.
“I’ve been in the gym just working on (the shot)," he said. "Coach has been working with me on it. “Everybody keeps encouraging me to shoot, so that’s been really nice, just to have everybody pulling for me. It just finally started dropping.”
“It was nice to see him have a breakout game,” Tigers’ coach Mark Johnson added. “Jared’s not going to go five of seven (from 3) all year, but he’s also not a 28-percent 3-point shooter like he has been the first half of the season. Hopefully this gains him a little confidence.”
The Tigers (11-4, 5-1 MIAA) were in another dogfight, with the game locked at 72 with just under five minutes left. Fort Hays then took control with a 10-0 run, including two driving layups from Marcus Cooper. UCO (8-7, 1-5 MIAA) never got closer than five the rest of the way.
FHSU shot a sizzling 60 percent from the field, making 32 of 53 from the floor and going 13 of 23 from 3-point range. UCO went 27 of 59 from the field and went 23 of 28 from the foul line.
“We knew you can’t stop them, you just have to try and slow them down,” Johnson said of the Bronchos. “You have to get as many stops as you can and take advantage of what we can offensively. … I think this definitely rivals Southwest Baptist as our best game of the year.”
Cooper continued his hot stretch for the Tigers, leading FHSU with 24 points. The senior guard was 9 of 10 from the floor and 3 of 3 from deep.
Kyler Kinnamon dished out 12 assists to go along with seven points while Brady Werth added 12 points. Trey O’Neil also came up with nine big points in the first half on three 3-pointers.
“I thought Trey came up really big in the first half,” Johnson said. “Those three threes that he made really kind of got us going. And I thought Kyler played really well. … And obviously Marcus Cooper has had this little stretch as of late. When he plays at this level, we’re a different team.”
Loyola transfer Adarius Avery scored a game-high 26 points for UCO while Ashford Golden added 23.
Fort Hays will head back on the road Wednesday, playing at Emporia State.
“I think we’re getting better. We’re playing better and we just need to continue that push and keep trying to get a little better every day,” Johnson said.