In his 17 years, Mark Johnson often has argued opposing teams save their best shooting night for when they visit Gross Memorial Coliseum.
Games like Saturday are a big reason for the Fort Hays State University men’s basketball team’s stance on the issue.
Washburn University, a team near or at the bottom of the MIAA in 3-point shooting and free-throw shooting percentages, lit up GMC, and handed the Tigers a 76-60 loss.
“Anytime someone shoots it well, you’ve got to put a little bit on yourself,” Johnson said. “When they shoot like this, they are as good as anyone in the country.”
With senior Brady Skeens in foul trouble early for the Ichabods — two points in the first half — the rest of the team stepped up, and the visitors got good play out of their guards as Washburn had a 9-0 run early in the first half. Junior Tyas Martin, who had a game-high 18 points, sparked the run with his first 3-pointer. He had six of the nine points, adding a free throw and a layup.
He and junior David Salach combined for 19 points in the first half as Washburn led by as many as 16 with 5 minutes, 39 seconds to go. Most of that came with Skeens on the bench.
“I was happy our guys stepped up with Brady Skeens in foul trouble,” Washburn coach Brett Ballard said. “We didn’t back down, and we kept attacking.”
FHSU made its biggest threat of the night late in the first half. A jumper by sophomore guard Aaron Nicholson sparked a 10-0 run that narrowed the gap to six points with 3:22 to play, and later a layup by redshirt freshman Jared Vitztum made it a three-point game with 2:25 left.
“We just had the ball moving a lot better,” Tiger junior center Brady Werth said of the run. “Setting screens, rolling, and people were stepping up and making shots.
“Had a lot more confidence at that time.”
Washburn, though, pushed it back to eight before a Vitztum 3 made it a five-point Tiger deficit at halftime.
“They gave us problems to be able to run our offense,” Johnson said of Washburn, which remains tied atop the MIAA with defending national champion Northwest Missouri State. “This is the most tired I’ve seen us look. They’re just so much more athletic than us.”
The strong guard play continued in the second half for the Ichabods, who all but put the game away early in the second half. Martin had four points and junior Javion Blake added a 3 as Washburn opened the half with a 7-0 run to go back up double digits. Martin added a 3 later that stretched the gap to 19.
The Ichabods were just a 33-percent 3-point shooting team coming in, but hit 9 of 20 (45 percent) Saturday, and were 23 of 28 from the foul line.
“I’ve been almost shocked at the fact we haven’t shot it better,” Ballard said. “We’ve got guys that are capable, we just haven’t stepped up and knocked them down.”
Plus, Washburn keyed in on FHSU senior Hadley Gillum, who had just seven points, finishing 3-of-9 from the floor. Werth, in just his second game back after missing two weeks with illness, had 16 points to lead FHSU.
“Hadley struggled scoring, and Salac and Skeens did a good job (on him),” Johnson said. “Their guards really played well today, too, and made it hard on our guards.”
Washburn got 11 points, 11 boards from Skeens, with Salach finishing with 13. Blake added 16, going 6 of 7 from the foul line.
FHSU is off until traveling to Tahlequah, Okla., on Thursday to meet Northeastern State. Washburn plays host to Missouri Western on Wednesday before a showdown with Northwest Missouri on Saturday.