Standing less than a foot behind the 3-point line, Kyler Kinnamon took a short pitch and looked to the rim. With the calm demeanor with which he plays, the Fort Hays State University point guard put up the shot and watched as it swished through the net.
With 6:10 left in the second half, Kinnamon's 3-pointer broke a tie game, and gave the Tigers a lead they would not relinquish. When time expired Fort Hays pulled off its second straight MIAA win to open conference play, beating Pittsburg State 77-74 at Gross Memorial Coliseum.
"It feels awesome to finish off a home stand like that," Kinnamon said. "It's really big for us. It just feels really good because our guys worked so hard today. Coming out on top feels really good."
Kinnamon was one of three Tigers to finish in double-figure scoring as he dropped in 13 points. Senior Hadley Gillum paced Fort Hays with 29 points, two nights after scoring 30 against Missouri Southern. Junior Brady Werth posted a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds. He was one rebound behind Gillum's 12.
Kinnamon also led the team with five assists and had no turnovers. That’s something the junior couldn't but help take pride in.
"I'm proud of that one," he said with a laugh about the turnovers. "That's the big one."
For all Fort Hays (6-2, 2-0 MIAA) did to pull off the win in the second half trailing by two at the break, they had to first overcome a quick start by Pitt State. The Gorillas jumped out to a 20-8 lead before Gillum warmed up. The lone senior on the Fort Hays team, Gillum scored nine of the Tigers’ next 11 points before a Kinnamon 3 tied it at 22.
From that point on a lead was never safe for either team.
"(Pitt State) is a talented team," Fort Hays State coach Mark Johnson said. "They've got a couple offensive players and they got a little bit ahead of us. Hadley had to kind of calm us down and he had a nice offensive stretch where he got us back scoring. He did a nice job with us and that kind of kept us close. All in all it is a very good win for us."
After Kinnamon's trey that gave the Tigers the lead in the second half, Pitt State couldn't find a way to get ahead. Two Kinnamon free throws put Fort Hays up 65-60. The Gorillas were able to get with 69-67 on a three-point sequence by Xavier Adams, which resulted in Gillum fouling out with 2:26 left in the game. Not even a minute later, though, a layup by Werth put Fort Hays up by seven.
A Grant Lozoya 3-pointer pulled Pitt State within 76-74. The Tigers’ Calvin Harrington converted one of two free throws with :10.2 seconds left.
On their final attempt to tie the game, Lozoya ran down court, crossed in front of Gorilla teammate Jaxon Holden at the top of the key who let loose a 3-point shot that bounced off the iron rim and into the hands of Harrington at the buzzer.
"It's still early in the season, there's still things we can improve on," Johnson said. "Our underneath, out of bounds defense was not very good tonight. When you're playing a talented team like that you can't give up that many easy baskets. There's a lot of things we can get better at and what we're doing."
Pitt State was led by Adams with 22 points. Lozoya had 20 and Kemetrius Levarity added 19 points and a game-high 13 rebounds.
Fort Hays will start a two-game MIAA road trip to Topeka on Wednesday, facing Washburn at 7:30 p.m. On Saturday, the Tigers will be at Emporia State.