Fort Hays State University and Nebraska-Kearney entered Saturday’s second conference meeting in Kearney sporting matching 7-6 MIAA records, including an 84-75 Tiger win from December in Hays.
Saturday, however, the Tigers offense continued to struggle on the road, falling to UNK 90-64. The Tigers dropped their fifth consecutive game away from Gross Memorial Coliseum. Mark Johnson’s squad is averaging just over 61 points per game in that stretch.
“We knew this wasn’t going to be a game in the 60s if we were going to win,” Johnson said. “We had to score at least 80 points, and we just couldn’t do that.”
FHSU was on pace to reach 80 through the first 10 minutes. Junior guard Rob Davis hit a 3-pointer on the Tigers’ opening possession. He hit his second three and added a jumper to give the Tigers’ a 20-19 lead with 10:20 left in the first half, but the Lopers went on a 26-10 run that spanned the rest of the half.
The Lopers, second in the conference in scoring, entered the locker room shooting 64 percent from the field, including 5 of 8 from beyond the arc. The reigning MIAA Player of the Year, Connor Beranek, had 16 points and seven rebounds in 16 first-half minutes, while fellow forwards Trey Lansman and Ethan Brozek scored eight and six, respectively.
“30 (Beranek), 31 (Lansman) and 32 (Brozek), that’s the best three-four-five combo in our league,” Johnson said. “They’re so big, and then they’re so skilled. They can shoot threes, they can step away.”
The versatile trio also managed to put the Tigers in foul trouble early. Starting forward Jake Stoppel picked up two fouls in four minutes, while Hadley Gillum was whistled three times in two minutes in the first half. Both fouled out in less than 15 minutes on the court.
“Whoever you put your small forward on, that guy is going to go inside and then their other big guy can step out and shoot 3s,” Johnson said. “They’re hard to cover.”
UNK sophomore Lane Rohrich stretched the Loper lead to 20 with a three-point play early in the second half.
FHSU freshmen Brady Werth and Kyler Kinnamon scored to bring the Tigers within 15 points two different times, but that was as close as the Tigers got. Werth took advantage of extended playing time with other big men in foul trouble and scored a career high seven points with three blocked shots in 18 minutes.
“I thought (Werth) came in and did well,” Johnson said. “I thought our bench did some good things.”
Kinnamon also scored seven points off the bench, while Gillum added eight to lead the FHSU reserves. Davis added just two points over the final 30 minutes to finish with a team-high 10 points. Johnson said that while Davis has been the Tigers’ most reliable scorer during their offensive lull, the key to getting the offense clicking again starts on the inside.
“We gotta make them guard us inside out,” Johnson said. “When we were really rolling offensively, Dom (Samac) and Jake were really putting up points and making it hard to guard (us).”
Johnson added that while the end result was disappointing, it wasn’t a matter of effort.
“I thought we were focused and trying to play hard and do what’s right,” the coach said. “We just got ran over by a better team tonight.”
Beranek never slowed on Saturday, finishing with 28 points on 8 of 13 from the field and 11 of 11 at the line with 12 rebounds. Lansman added another impressive stat line. He finished 3 for 4 from deep and pitched in 15 points to go along with six rebounds, five assists and five blocks. Rohrich and Brozek each added 13.
“They’ve had injuries,” Johnson said. “They’re one of the best teams in our league. They’re probably the best offensive team in our conference.”
FHSU returns to the comforts of Gross Memorial Coliseum on Thursday when they host Central Missouri. The Tigers and Mules will enter the game with matching 13-7, 7-7 records.