After being held back by foul trouble at times during the nonconference state, Brady Werth showed Tuesday how dominant the Fort Hays State big man can be with extended time on the floor.

Werth logged a season-high 38 minutes after picking up just two fouls, taking advantage with 27 points in the Tigers’ MIAA-opening 76-73 win over Nebraska-Kearney at Gross Memorial Coliseum.

FHSU coach Mark Johnson hopes that's a sign of things to come for the 6-foot-7 senior forward, who was averaging just 19 minutes of playing time in the Tigers' previous four games before Kearney.

“We go to Newman and we lose by one (76-75) and he plays 17 minutes,” Johnson said. “If he plays 22 or 23, we probably win the game. He’s just too important to us; he has got to stay out of foul trouble. He did a much better job. (The 38 minutes) was probably the best stat of the night for him, as good as he was at everything else. He’s got to stay on the floor for us.”

Werth went 9 of 16 from the field and 8 of 11 from the foul line against the Lopers, upping his season average to a team-best 15 points per game.

Johnson said he expects Emporia State to make a concentrated effort to contain Werth when the Tigers play host to the Hornets at 4 p.m. on Saturday.

“They come down and double team hard on the top side. We’re going to have to work on that,” Johnson said. “They’re not going to let Brady shoot the ball very much on Saturday, I would anticipate. We’re going to have to do the same thing and get the ball to him, but we’re going to have to do a better job of moving off of him and having other guys make shots.”

ESU (4-2) will open conference play tonight at Kearney before heading to Hays. The Hornets are in their first year under head coach Craig Doty, who led Graceland University (Iowa) to an NAIA Division I national championship last season.

Heading into the UNK game, Kooper Glick is averaging a team-high 15.3 points for the Hornets while Hassan Thomas and Malik Hluchoweckyi are adding 14.7 and 13.5 per game, respectively.

“They’re much, much better than they were a year ago,” Johnson said. “They got some good players in there. It’ll be a really good matchup with Hassan Thomas inside. He’s a big, physical specimen (6-8, 215 pounds). He can shoot threes like Brady. That’s two of the better big guys in the league that will be going against each other.

“And they got a bunch of 6-5 guards that can really shoot the ball, so we’ll have our hands full and we'll have to guard probably a littler better than we we did (Tuesday).”

Legette clutch in Kearney win

Senior forward Tatyana Legette opened MIAA play on a strong note for the No. 9-ranked Fort Hays State women’s basketball team against UNK, supplying a season-high 23 points and 13 rebounds in a 62-53 win on Tuesday.

Legette was the Tigers’ go-to option down the stretch, scoring eight points in the fourth quarter to help Fort Hays fight off the Lopers and move to 7-0.

“Probably the last four to five minutes of the game, every set that we ran — if we didn’t get something in transition — was going to T,” FHSU coach Tony Hobson said. “Then if we got it in there and she couldn’t get something to happen, then we’d kick it out. I just thought we had a big advantage with her and they just couldn’t keep in front of her.”

After scoring a career-high 24 points on Saturday against Missouri Valley College, Kacey Kennett added 15 against Kearney. The junior guard leads the Tigers with 12.9 points a game while Legette and junior guard Lanie Page are averaging 12.4 each.

Kennett is 7 of 12 from 3-point range over the last two games and 12 of 36 for the season. 

“I think the last two games she’s felt way more comfortable with her three, because she wasn’t shooting a very high percentage the first four or five games," Hobson said. "I think she’s just more confident and tweaked (her shot) a little more in practice and is feeling better.”

Up next for the Tigers is a top-25 clash with No. 24-ranked Emporia State at 2 p.m. Saturday at home.

Toby Wynn is in his first season as ESU head coach after a successful run at Seward County Community College. The Hornets are 6-1 heading into Thursday's game at Kearney.

“From what I’ve heard, they’re playing a lot like they did last year,” Hobson said Tuesday. “A lot of the same personnel and they’re playing a 2-3 extended halfcourt zone where they just kind of go crazy. That’s what they did last year and they’re continuing that with their new coach.”

Jessica Wayne leads a balanced ESU attack with 14.6 points while Tyra Jones (13.3), Addie Lackey (11.9) and Emily Miller (11.7) are also in double figures.