EMPORIA — In the last four days, the Fort Hays State University women’s basketball team played arguably the two toughest road games the Tigers will play all season.
By Saturday afternoon’s final buzzer, the Tigers’ record helped illustrate that fact. Just six points separate the Tigers from a potential 9-0 record and 4-0 start in the MIAA. Instead, a second straight three-point loss — this time to perennial MIAA power Emporia State University at White Auditorium — has the Tigers sitting 7-2 and 2-2 in MIAA play.
FHSU fell 73-70 after a game-tying shot just missed in regulation. The Tigers went 0-2 in the Washburn, Emporia State road swing after falling 62-59 to the Ichabods in Topeka on Wednesday.
“I was hoping we could get one,” Tiger coach Tony Hobson said following Saturday’s loss. “If we could get one of two, we’d be in good shape.
“It’s disappointing because we were so close on both of them.”
The most recent loss came after the Tigers led by 10 points against the Hornets in the second quarter Saturday in a place the hosts haven’t lost in two seasons. Tiger junior Tatyana Legette hit a 3-pointer that gave FHSU a 26-16 advantage at the 8:23 mark of the second quarter.
Like good teams do, though, Emporia State rallied, feeding off a handful of miscues and turnovers on the part of the Tigers — and the play of Tyra Jones, ESU’s 6-foot junior forward.
“It was a game of runs (today),” Hobson said. “We had a nice lead in the first half.”
Just like when FHSU had a 14-point lead Wednesday at Washburn, it didn’t last. Jones took control. She drove the lane numerous times, outscoring FHSU 11-2 through the next four minutes and made it a one-point game with a layup.
By halftime, the Hornets (6-2, 2-0) had tied the game at 30.
“She’s a tough matchup. She drives it every time, and she’s really athletic,” Hobson said of Jones, who ended with a game-high 25 points. “It’s hard to keep a body in front of her. We had a couple turnovers, but she’s so fast. She was the difference for them.”
Things went south quickly for FHSU in the third quarter when seemingly just about everything bad that could happen did. ESU came out of the locker room on a 4-0 run, and eventually built its own 10-point lead on a free throw by Jones. The Hornets led by 11 going to the fourth.
From that point, though, “we really turned it around,” Hobson said.
Tiger sophomore Taylor Rolfs was a big reason why. The Central Plains High School grad caught fire from 3-point land and had virtually endless range. She hit three bombs in the first five minutes of the quarter, the last of which tied the game at 62 with 5:25 to go. It was blow-by-blow from there.
“I’m really proud of the way our kids came back,” Hobson said. “It would have been really easy to go south.
“The third quarter probably went about as bad as possible for us. We had a bunch of kids in foul trouble, and they lived at the free-throw line.”
The Tigers in the final 5:25 had two leads, the first coming on a free throw by sophomore Kacey Kennett, the second on a 3-pointer by Kennett. Both leads were one point. ESU got a 3-pointer from Emily Miller, to put ESU up four in the final minute. FHSU could get no closer than two the rest of the way, but had a chance to tie the game at the buzzer.
FHSU went to Rolfs with 6 seconds left after she had drained five triples previously. Rolfs’ good look just missed as time expired.
“They’re all bad,” Hobson said of the two losses. “But, these are tolerable because it isn’t like we’re playing the worst teams in the conference on the road.
“These guys haven’t lost here for two years, and there’s a reason.”
Tiger senior Emma Stroyan, who had a hot hand in the Tigers’ early run, had 18 points to lead FHSU. Rolfs ended with 17 and Legette 16. Kennett had on off night as the only field goal she made was the late 3. She finished with six points.
It was the final MIAA game before the holiday break for FHSU, which plays host to Tabor College on Wednesday at Gross Memorial Coliseum.