On any other night, seeing Brady Werth and Marcus Cooper go scoreless in the first half would likely spell disaster for the Fort Hays State men.
But thanks to solid defense and a big boost from its bench, Fort Hays had no trouble overcoming off nights from its top scorers on Tuesday against Central Christian College.
Werth and Cooper finished with 10 points combined, but FHSU got 41 points out of its bench in a 71-46 victory at Gross Memorial Coliseum.
Redshirt freshman Nyjee Wright led Fort Hays with a career-high 14 points and senior Trey O’Neil chipped in 13 to help the Tigers improve to 4-3 before they head into MIAA play next week.
“I feel like we have more offensive depth (this season),” FHSU coach Mark Johnson said. “Tonight, foul trouble derailed Brady, and Marcus just struggled mightily. Last year, that would have really hurt us. This year, we were able to get guys like Nyjee and Devin Davis off the bench. We have other guys that can fill that void when our main guys are maybe struggling.”
Werth was limited to just four minutes in the first half with two fouls while Cooper was 0 of 3 from the field in nine minutes.
Wright scored nine points in the first half and O’Neil hit two 3-pointers late in the half to help stretch the Tigers’ lead to 37-18 at halftime.
Wright, a Derby product, eclipsed his previous career high of nine points in the season opener against Sioux Falls. He went 4 of 8 from the field and 3 of 5 from 3-point range.
“It felt good today,” Wright said. “Last week my shot wasn’t going in, so I had to come in and get some more shots in, but thankfully it went in today.”
FHSU never trailed, outscoring Central Christian 19-8 over the last eight minutes of the first half to pull away.
“We just had to come out aggressive,” Wright said. “We couldn’t overlook the opponent just because of their conference or whatever. We just had to come out and play them like any other team.”
FHSU shot 44 percent from the field (24 of 55) while holding Central Christian to 33 percent from the floor (17 of 51).
“We struggled from the free throw line (15 of 25), we struggled shooting the three (8 of 26), but we didn’t let it affect our defense,” Johnson said. “We kept guarding and turned them over a lot (21 times). We got out in transition and did some good things.”
FHSU shut down Central Christian’s top two scorers, Jubril Osagie and Steve Kuminga, holding them to a combined five points on 2-of-15 shooting.
“Our key tonight was to slow those two down and make sure we stayed out on number 10 (Paul Ard II) and not let them get going,” Johnson said. “We did a really, really good job. We just needed to get a victory and take care of business at home.”
The game went down as an exhibition for Central Christian, an NAIA school in McPherson. T.J. Williams led Central Christian with 12 points while Isaiah Rivera chipped in 10.
Fort Hays will begin MIAA conference play against Nebraska-Kearney at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at home.