FHSU women fall in MIAA semis
By CONOR NICHOLL
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Fort Hays State University women’s basketball team has won 22 games, the most in the program since ’04-05 and tied for the highest total since ’94-95. However, FHSU has also lost seven times, including four occasions where it let a possible win slip away in the final seconds.
“We are about three possessions from hosting a regional,” Tiger coach Tony Hobson said.
Instead, the Tigers will likely miss the NCAA Division II tournament after a difficult 87-78 overtime loss to University of Central Missouri in the MIAA postseason tournament semifinals Saturday at Municipal Auditorium.
The game featured multiple swings of momentum and 51 fouls, including a season-high 28 called on the Tigers. FHSU sophomore center Kate Lehman collected a technical foul in the first half. She had her fourth foul early in the second half, but didn’t foul out until 4 minutes, 7 seconds remained in overtime.
“I told them that in the locker room I have never had a team on the mat so many times during a game and come back,” Hobson said.
Fort Hays led 75-74, but went 0 of 4 from the free throw line with two misses from junior Katelyn Edwards and sophomore Keriann Shaw in the final 44 seconds. Jennies junior guard BreAnna Lewis tied the contest when she made the first of two free throws with 7.8 seconds left.
Lewis’ second free throw bounced in and out, but she scored the first seven points in overtime to put Central Missouri in control.
“Just play hard,” Lewis said. “That’s the only thing I did was just play hard.”
Central Missouri, the tournament’s No. 2 seed, ranked second in the Central Region and No. 13 nationally, moved to 24-4. Lewis posted a game-high 27 points as UCM moved to 9-0 in games decided by five points or fewer. FHSU dropped to 1-4 in games decided by five points or fewer/overtime.
“We’ve got good ball handling, we’ve got people who score, and we have got people that can go make plays, and we do have players who can go take the ball and make great basketball plays,” Central Missouri coach Dave Slifer said. “I would like to say it was us or the scheme or something else, but you’ve got to give credit to our kids, who when the game is on the line, Bre may take 18 bad shots during the game, but when it’s on the line, Bre finds ways to put it down.”
Edwards and senior Kaiameka Brown tied for the Tigers’ high with 18 points, while Lehman contributed 17.
“Just a good thing we had (Edwards) or we would have needed about six 3-pointers to get us back in the game, just not a free throw,” Hobson said.
Edwards, who struggled with her free throw shooting earlier in the season, had worked diligently in the last six weeks.
Since a double overtime road loss to Truman State (Mo.) University on Jan. 26, Edwards had been 55 of 80 (69 percent) from the line and raised her season average to 64 percent.
However, on Saturday, Edwards finished 6 of 12 from the stripe as the Tigers went 19 of 32 (59 percent) from the line.
“I think it’s something I’ve struggled with all year and I’ve struggled with all my life,” an emotional Edwards said. “It’s just something that I need to keep working on.”
“I’ve always said in a situation like that, you can knock 15 to 20 percent off a free throw shooters’ percentage, at the end of a game, under pressure,” Hobson added.
Before Saturday, the teams had met up once, in the MIAA season opener, a 95-50 Tiger victory Dec. 5 in Hays.
FHSU started that game on a 34-1 run. Since then, UCM has lost just three times and added junior forward Keuna Flax, who averages 19 points a game and scored 23 on Saturday. Senior forward Nicole Caddell added 12 points and 10 rebounds before fouling out late.
“A lot of people had asked us over the last couple of weeks, ‘Hey, don’t you want to get a piece of Fort Hays?,” Slifer said. “I will be quite honest, I don’t think any of us did. … FHSU has got a lot of different weapons. I am just very much stunned how well we scored inside tonight.”
Caddell and Lehman have met up five times in the last two years, including back-to-back seasons in Kansas City. FHSU, paced by a career-high night from Brown, led by 12 with 13:26 left in the first half. Then, UCM led by 12 with 3:26 before intermission before FHSU closed the gap to 44-41 at the break.
Lehman picked up three fouls by halftime, including a rarely called double foul with 5:18 remaining before intermission. Lehman collected a technical foul for elbowing Caddell, while Caddell picked up a personal foul.
“There is nobody on the floor that gets fouled more in a game – in every game we have had this year – than Kate Lehman,” Hobson said. “She gets jacked in the back, she gets kneed in the butt practically every play. When she's not allowed to turn around without somebody falling down and getting an offensive foul, I don’t think that’s fair.”
Lehman picked up her fourth foul with 16:21 left, a play that led to a pair of Caddell free throws.
“I try to keep her out of the paint a little, and at the beginning of the game, you’ve got to get in her head a little bit,” said Caddell, a two-time all-MIAA player. “You’ve got to talk a little. She is easy to get down, so I know how to push her button.”
Officials whistled FHSU for the first five fouls of the second half before they called the Jennies for six straight fouls. Lehman sat for about two minutes after the fourth foul before she returned and led the comeback.
“I don’t think officials ever don’t try to do their best,” Hobson said. “They were trying to get the game under control. Both teams were playing really hard, and they were after each other.”
An Edwards steal led to a trey from senior Traci Keyser and a 72-69 lead with 3:51 left. Even with the missed free throws, FHSU never relinquished the lead until Lewis tied the game in the final seconds of regulation.
“Just a really tough loss,” Hobson said.