The Fort Hays State University men’s basketball team was in need of a confidence booster entering Saturday night.
That’s just what the Tigers got in a 92-58 throttling of Sterling College at Gross Memorial Coliseum.
Fort Hays dominated from the start and used some long-range shooting to dismantle the out-matched Warriors in easy fashion before beginning conference play next week.
“It was huge. Things are clicking right now on the offensive end,” said junior guard Trey O’Neil. “We just have to touch up some things on the defense, and I think we’ll be ready for next week.”
O’Neil was the catalyst for the confidence boost Saturday night. The former Scott City standout scored 17 of his career high 20 points in the opening half as FHSU raced out to a 49-22 advantage at the break.
“We do that every day,” O’Neil said. “I think we’re a pretty good shooting team, so you could say getting into games gives you some confidence.”
Indeed the Tigers (4-2) were hot from the field, shooting 57 percent for the game and 54 percent from 3-point range.
Five different FHSU players hit from long range, including five by O’Neil.
“We were just making the extra pass, and guys were knocking their shots down,” said sophomore guard Aaron Nicholson, who hit three 3-pointers and scored 11 points.
Fort Hays got only 28 points in the paint, but that still was double what Sterling managed inside. It didn’t matter much for the Tigers, though, as the team was hot from outside the arc — hitting 14 of 26 tries.
“It was the last game before conference, and we haven’t been able to win two in a row all year,” said FHSU coach Mark Johnson. “We’ve won one then lost one, then won one and lost one. This was a good opportunity to get a mini winning streak and get two in a row. We’ve got two huge home games against good competition, and hopefully we’re ready for it and more prepared because it won’t be easy.”
The Tigers were coming off a blowout win Tuesday night against Kansas Christian, and Saturday’s win gave the Tigers their first winning streak of the season.
FHSU raced out to a 6-0 advantage and never trailed in the game.
“We really wanted to get a win to get our confidence up before conference play next week,” Nicholson said.
Four different players finished with multiple makes from 3-point range, including junior Grant Holmes and red-shirt freshman Isaiah Nunnery. Holmes hit two triples and scored 16 points, and Nunnery was a perfect 3-for-3 from long range to finish with nine points.
“Trey got off to a very hot start in the first half,” Johnson said. “That really got us going there, and we were able to continue it throughout the game. And Grant and Isaiah can shoot the ball. When they came in, they were able to do that. That’s always big. Any time you shoot the ball well, it makes it look like you’re running a good offense. Some nights, you can be running the same offense and shots aren’t falling and it makes it look like you’re stagnant.”
Sterling never really threatened the Tigers, who continually hit from the field and got 53 points from the bench.
Senior Hadley Gillum chipped in 10 points on 5 of 8 shooting, and junior KeShawn Wilson managed eight points — including a 3-pointer.
“If we shoot the ball like that, we’re going to be tough to beat,” Nicholson said.
Sophomore Isaac Ostrosky led Sterling with 11 points, and junior Trey Dubbert added 10. But the two made only 8 of 20 shots.
A third win in a row won’t be easy, as FHSU hosts Missouri Southern on Thursday night to begin MIAA play.
“Going into it, we’re feeling pretty good,” O’Neil said. “But feeling good and taking care of business are two different things. Once Thursday comes, we’ve got to be ready to strap them up and get after it.”