The Fort Hays State University men’s basketball team used a 17-0 second half run that led to a 19-point win over No. 15 ranked Southwest Minnesota State on Friday evening in Emporia. The Tigers took the neutral site match-up 85-66 knocking off a team that reached the Central Regional Final a year ago in the NCAA Division II Tournament.
Both teams came out of the gate shooting lights out, better than 70 percent on both sides through the first 10 minutes. Down 14-9, Fort Hays State used a 12-6 run with a flurry of 3-pointers to take a 22-21 lead. All 12 points in the run were on 3s. FHSU took a five-point lead, but saw SMSU battle back to tie the score three more times. A 7-2 burst by the Tigers in the final six minutes of the first half led to a 42-37 halftime lead. The teams traded the lead eight times and there were seven ties in the first half. FHSU shot 64.3 percent from the field in the opening half.
Fort Hays State led by six at the 16:03 mark before going on a 17-0 run to stun the nation's 15th-ranked team. Payton Stephens and Marcus Cooper were key to the run, Stephens scored nine points and Cooper added six in the. The two combined for three old-fashioned 3-point plays in the run. Hadley Gillum was the only other Tiger to score in that span, helping push the lead to 21 with a layup at the 13:31 mark. Stephens capped the run with a jumper at the 12:55 mark, pushing FHSU to a 66-43 lead at the time.
The Tiger lead grew as large as 25 points a minute and a half later, but SMSU tried to make a push inside 10 minutes to go in the game. SMSU went on a 15-4 run between 9:50 and 7:19 on the clock to trim the lead down to 14, but that is the closest the Mustangs came to the Tigers the rest of the night. Gillum and Stephens squelched any chance of a push from the Mustangs with a pair of buckets, getting the FHSU lead back out to 19 with 5:53 to play. FHSU went into cruise control for the rest of the game.
The Tigers did not hit any 3-point field goals in the second half after putting down six in the first. FHSU finished the game shooting 52.4 percent overall and missed just one free-throw, going 13-of-14 (92.9 percent) at the charity stripe. FHSU dominated the glass, outrebounding SMSU by 14, 42-28. Southwest Minnesota State finished the game at 41.1 percent from the field and just 58.3 percent at the free-throw line. The Mustangs also hit six 3-point field goals in the game.
Stephens led the Tigers with a career-high 15 points off the bench, all in the second half. Four other Tigers reached double figures, including Cooper (14), Brady Werth (12), Aaron Nicholson (11), and Gillum (10).
Carter Kirk led SMSU with 17 points, followed by Ryan Bruggeman with 15. KJ Davis and Taylor Schafer each added 10.
The Tigers return to the court Saturday at 5:30 pm against the University of Sioux Falls. FHSU defeated USF on last-second baskets each of the last two seasons.