The Tigers will get a home game for the first round of the MIAA postseason tournament.
That much is certain. The opponent will be determined when the regular season wraps up this weekend. But it probably won’t matter much.
At least according to FHSU senior Hadley Gillum.
If the Tigers come out and play like they did in the first half of their regular-season finale Thursday night against Southwest Baptist, Gillum says his club can play with just about anyone.
The Tigers wasted little time in securing that first-round home game, rolling to a 70-52 victory against the Bearcats at Gross Memorial Coliseum.
“I don’t think we could have imagined any better,” Gillum said of the start, which took place just minutes after he was honored as the lone senior in the program. “We had one of our better halves of the season.”
Gillum was recognized in front of a large crowd, which included his family and a large contingent of fans sporting the Plainville Cardinals maroon, including several members of the Cardinal basketball team.
They watched as the Tigers dismantled SBU in the first 20 minutes, putting up a 43-23 lead by halftime, then going to coast mode the rest of the way.
“When you make shots, it makes you look like you’re playing well,” FHSU coach Mark Johnson said.
And the Tigers were firing on all cylinders, even after a rough 65-62 loss just two nights earlier against University of Nebraska-Kearney in Kearney, Neb.
“Overall, really happy with both ends of the floor,” Johnson said. “Rebounded well tonight against a team that statistically going into last week was a lot better rebounding team than us.”
And the Tigers hit from outside. In the first-half run, FHSU hit its first six 3s, including three from junior guard Marcus Cooper. Gillum had two 3s by halftime.
“If we come out and play like we did that first half, we can play with anyone and make a run,” Gillum said.
The game of course slowed in the second half as the Tigers seemed to be on cruise control. However, SBU (12-15 overall, 6-12 MIAA) never did threaten. Cooper’s fourth trey gave FHSU its largest lead at 27 points at the 9 minute, 37 second mark, a lead they held a few more times as the contest never was in doubt.
Junior Brady Werth finished with 19 points and eight rebounds to lead the way for FHSU (17-11, 10-9), while Cooper finished with 18. Gillum, in a night that belonged to him, finished with 12 points and nine rebounds.
Johnson reflected on Gillum’s time at FHSU, remembering vividly the time he spent watching him play at Plainville High.
“He was bound and determined to come here,” Johnson said. “He had a lot of confidence in himself that it was going to happen.”
Following the contest, Gillum’s supporting cast from Plainville gathered in the stands to take a group photo with the Tiger, who earlier in the week surpassed the 1,000-point mark for his career. He became just the 20th Tiger to accomplish the feat.
“I’m just thankful and grateful,” the often quiet Gillum said. “Not many people get that opportunity.”
He’ll get to do it one more time in front of a home crowd in next week’s tournament, and hopefully again in Kansas City, Mo.
“You never thought the day would come,” he said of senior night. “It’s gone by in a flash and I’m loving every minute of it.”