Entering the season, there was no doubt who the Fort Hays State men wanted to emerge as their go-to scorer.
Senior forward Brady Werth showed why he's more than capable of taking on that role during Saturday’s home opener against Colorado Mines.
The Hays High product scored a game-high 27 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to help the Tigers narrowly escape Mines with a 75-71 overtime win at Gross Memorial Coliseum.
Werth did most of his damage after halftime, scoring 17 in the second half and six in the overtime period to help the Tigers improve to 1-2.
“I think in the second half we kind of realized we needed to get it inside,” Werth said. “And if I don’t get it done on the inside, I always kick it out.”
The Tigers went back and forth with the Mines down the stretch in regulation, with the lead changing hands six times in the last 6:21.
Werth tied it up with a layup at the 1:20 mark and both teams had chances to break the tie in the closing moments. Mines’ guard Ben Sonnefeld missed a guarded 3-pointer as the buzzer sounded.
Marcus Cooper’s 3-point play gave the Tigers a four-point lead with 1:49 left, and Werth had two free throws with 1:09 left to restore the four-point cushion.
Mines continued to hang around after a 3-pointer from Mason Baker cut the deficit to one with 18 ticks left, but Kyler Kinnamon made two free throws with 13 seconds remaining and Marcus Cooper made one of two at the line with four seconds left to put it out of reach.
“Really thought our guys played hard,” FHSU coach Mark Johnson said. “They play a methodical style of play. It’s a low possession game. At one point in the first half we were shooting 50 percent and we had only about 12 points. It was just a low-possession game.
“Just really proud of our guys. Obviously Brady was huge in the second half and overtime. We just kept feeding him the ball and he was big time. We needed every single one of them.”
Werth, who was 11 of 21 from the field, has been forced to wear a protective mask after breaking his nose early in preseason practice.
“I’ve been getting used to it,” Werth said. “I broke my nose on the first real practice of the season. You have to make some adjustments to it, but you can play through it. It’s not bad.”
Werth was joined in double figures by Devin Davis (15), Kinnamon (12) and Cooper (11). Sonnefeld led a balanced attack for Mines with 17 points.
With the win, the Tigers avenged two close losses to the Orediggers in the last two seasons. Johnson said FHSU turned in a solid effort on the defensive end. Mines was 26 of 59 from the field while Fort Hays went 27 of 60.
“We turned them into 18 turnovers, which was really big,” Johnson said. “It’s hard to speed them up because they’re an experienced team and they know what they do, but I thought we did a good job of turning them over.”
The Tigers, which bounced back from losses to Sioux Falls and Southwest Minnesota State to begin the season, will turn around to face UC-Colorado Springs at 4 p.m. on Sunday at home.