ST. JOSEPH, Mo. — On Thursday, Fort Hays State caught Missouri Western on the wrong night.
After three straight conference losses, the Griffons added one to the other side of the ledger with a 74-68 win over the Tigers in front of 1,611 fans at the MWSU Fieldhouse.
For most of the game, it was as even as could be with neither team building more than a nine-point advantage. With just 2 minutes, 6 seconds left in the game, the Griffons held onto a one-point advantage. That’s when Western coach Brett Weiberg’s team turned into closers.
A pair of buckets from Mataika Koyamainavure and Xavier Newson built the lead to 68-63 with one minute to go. After a defensive stop on the other end, all the Griffons (6-12, 4-8 MIAA) had to do was hit free throws to earn their first win since a Jan. 4 home win over Central Oklahoma.
“It was such a must-win,” Western coach Brett Weiberg said. “Obviously it feels good, but what feels even better is that the kids tried to do what I asked them to do.
“They played the right way and did a great job.”
Fort Hays (13-6, 7-6) and Western were a contrast in the way they got their points. The Tigers had four players register double-digit points, led by 15 from junior guard Rob Davis. Davis was joined in double figures by Craig Nicholson (13), Dom Samac (12) and Kenny Enoch (10).
On the other side of the court, only two Griffons reached that plateau, but both put up a lot of points. Junior guard Xavier Newson led the way with a game-high 25 points and his backcourt mate Trey Sampson added 21.
Even though both had outstanding games from a scoring standpoint, Sampson – a junior from Cedar Rapids, Iowa – said it was their teammates that made that possible.
“We had a great week of practice and we came out and executed our sets, executed our offense and locked down on defense. That’s what we need to do to win games. Wes (Mitter) is a great point guard and moved the ball around, Cole (Clearman) had a great game tonight. I think we finally starting to mesh as a team and it’s working out.”
After taking a 34-33 lead into halftime, at the start of the second half it looked like the game might get away from the Griffons.
The Tigers opened the second stanza with a 7-0 run to build a six-point advantage. Western, however, found an answer.
Newson ended the run with a 3-pointer. The two teams traded baskets before aa Aaron Emanuel dunk and a Sampson trey gave the Griffons the lead.
Hadley Gillum’s layup evened the score at 44-all with 12:32 to play, but that was as close as Fort Hays would get to a lead the rest of the way.
The Griffons built the lead to as much as nine points, before Fort Hays whittled it down in the game’s waning minutes.
“This game definitely gives us confidence,” Newson said. “It was a really tough grind and we needed the win tonight.
“This win will definitely help us going into Saturday.”