The Fort Hays State men managed to stay within striking distance of Northwest Missouri throughout Saturday’s game at Gross Memorial Coliseum, but the Tigers couldn’t find the one big push to put the pressure on the No. 2-ranked Bearcats.
FHSU was within single digits of Northwest for most of the way but couldn’t get closer than five points in the second half, falling 81-69 to the unbeaten Bearcats.
“It seemed like it was a seven-point game for 40 minutes,” FHSU coach Mark Johnson said. “We got it to five, but we could never get that spurt where we would get a 6-0 run or something to really put pressure on them.”
Northwest (19-0, 9-0 MIAA) negated a stron start by Fort Hays by constantly draining 3-pointers. Northwest senior forward Joey Witthus hit his first five 3-point attempts and the Bearcats knocked in eight of 12 tries from behind the arc to take a 42-35 lead into the break.
“I thought we were really playing well the first ten minutes,” Johnson said. “Unfortunately they didn’t miss a three. If we could have been up seven or eight in that first ten, sometimes that changes the complexion of the game.”
FHSU trimmed the Northwest lead to five twice midway through the second half but the Bearcats used a 7-0 run, fueled by a big 3-pointer from Diego Bernard, to open up a 12-point lead with 7:30 left. The Tigers never got closer than nine the rest of the way.
“That kind of took the air out of us a little bit,” Johnson said of Bernard’s 3-pointer.
Redshirt freshman point guard Trevor Hudgins and Witthus did most of the damage for the Bearcats, combining for 54 points.
Hudgins exploded for 30 points, going 10 of 15 from the field and 7 of 7 from the foul line. Witthus put up 24 points, finishing 6 of 9 from 3-point range. Bernard added 13 points including a couple key shots late.
“We did a good job on (Ryan) Hawkins and everybody else,” Johnson said. “Really, it was about Hudgins and Witthus. At the end when we start trapping, now that opens up Diego Bernard.
“You talk to every coach in the league, everybody’s tried 10 different ways (to defend Northwest) and they’ve had an answer. Those guys are really, really talented.”
Northwest finished 25 of 51 from the field and 14 of 30 from distance.
“They're really tough to guard,” FHSU senior point guard Kyler Kinnamon said. “They set a lot of ball screens and you’ve got to be really solid with what you do and mix up the looks at them. I think we caught them on kind of a tough day. Give them credit, they’re a tough team. But there’s some things we can do a lot better.”
FHSU senior forward Brady Werth led the Tigers with 18 points, with nine coming in the first three minutes. Devin Davis was the only other Tiger in double figures with 10.
Fort Hays (13-6, 7-3 MIAA), which suffered its first home loss of the season, went 23 of 49 from the field, 8 of 20 from 3-point range and 15 of 18 from the foul line.
The Tigers will start a three-game road swing at Nebraska-Kearney on Saturday.