Losing a senior point guard and leader like Carly Heim would cripple some teams, but Fort Hays State's depth, experience and versatility have helped soften the blow for the Tigers so far.
In the two games since Heim suffered a season-ending ACL tear, FHSU responded with a 25-point win at Pittsburg State and a 15-point victory at Missouri Southern last week.
Juniors Kacey Kennett and Taylor Rolfs have shared point guard duties the last two games and sophomore guard Whitney Clampitt has taken advantage of an increased role off the bench.
“I think we’re better off than some people would be (to withstand Heim's injury) — not only with depth, but just this skill level of our wing players to be able to shift over and take over the point guard duties. Not everybody has that," FHSU coach Tony Hobson said. "We’ve got two or three kids that can handle the point guard duties, and they also have experience. It isn’t like we have to throw a freshman in there if we don’t want to. We’ve got juniors we can slide in there and they’re smart enough that we can kind of figure things out."
The No. 4-ranked Tigers (21-1, 12-1 MIAA) are gearing up for another test without Heim, facing No. 25 Lindenwood (16-4, 10-3 MIAA) at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday in Gross Memorial Coliseum.
“We have a lot of depth and everybody’s pretty versatile and can do many different things,” Clampitt said. “I think we’re all fighting pretty hard for Carly Heim at this point.”
Clampitt played a career-high 31 minutes in the Missouri Southern win, contributing nine points and four assists.
“I’m not going to be able to fill Carly Heim’s shoes by any means, but it felt good to get in there and work for my team and try to pick up some of the slack,” Clampitt said.
The Heim injury was by far the most adversity the Tigers had faced this season, and Hobson was proud of how his team responded.
“Things had been going pretty smooth for us,” Hobson said. “We’d had the same five starters for 20 games and then we probably faced one of our tougher road games in the conference, the game after (Heim) gets hurt when we go to Pitt. Really liked our response. I thought we played about as well as we could play that night. I thought Taylor and Kacey kind of shared the point guard duties and I thought they did a great job."
Starting in place of Heim in the Pitt State game, Rolfs matched her career high with 17 points.
“Taylor probably had maybe her best of the game year at a big time against a good team," Hobson said. "Whitney, she took advantage of her opportunity that she got with more playing time because we’re missing Carly. She played a good, solid game (against Pitt) and backed it up with a good, solid game Saturday. Hopefully she can keep that up.”
Even when sidelined, Heim is still finding ways to be an asset for the Tigers, Hobson said.
“Carly’s still a real valuable part of our team, providing leadership in other ways — whatever she can do," he said. "She was really good on our road trip — just pieces of advice and basically just supporting her teammates.”
Lindenwood is led by Kallie Bildner's 17.3 points per game. The Lions have won three straight and are coming off a 69-58 win at home against Missouri Western.
“All of their starters shoot the 3 and four of their starters are 38 percent or higher (from three),” Hobson said. “They shoot it well. And their big kid (Bildner) is the leading scorer in the conference. They have weapons at every position. ... I think offensively and personnel-wise, they’ve probably got about as good of personnel as anybody. We just have to take advantage of having them here. Last year we went in their place and got them on the road, and then they got us in the conference tournament (championship game)."
“They’re playing really well, too," Clampitt said of the Lions. "I think defensively we need to dial in and definitely work harder on defense."
Fort Hays men look to rebound from Southern loss
The Fort Hays State men are coming off a 1-1 week, beating Pittsburg State 77-75 on a late bucket from Aaron Nicholson before stumbling at Missouri Southern, taking an 78-66 loss to the Lions.
FHSU coach Mark Johnson said the Tigers struggled to find a rhythm against the Lions' extended zone.
“We just did not do a very good job; we didn’t execute very well in our man offense or our zone offense," he said. "Quite frankly, we got what we deserved. You play a really good team on the road like that and you’re not really executing at the level you’re supposed to, it’s going to be a hard opportunity and a hard game.”
Senior guard Marcus Cooper, the team's second-leading scorer at 13.4 points per game, has been battling a hand injury that has limited his offensive effectiveness over the last three games. He managed 13 points against Missouri Southern but was just 3 of 15 from the field in the two games before then.
Johnson said Cooper is trying to find ways to impact the game in other areas until his hand improves.
"Right now he’s trying to do the things that can help us win — defend,” Johnson said. “You got to defend guys like Elyjah Clark last weekend. This week he might be on Brad Newman at times; (Newman's) leading our conference in scoring in conference games. Be a good defender, rebound the basketball, try to get to the offensive glass and get some putbacks and things like that.”
The Tigers enter Thursday's 7:30 p.m. game 14-8 overall and 8-5 in conference play while Lindenwood is 11-14 overall and 4-9 in the MIAA.
Newman is averaging 21 points on the season and 24.4 points per game in conference play for the Lions while Chandler Diekvoss is adding 15.2 points a game on the season.
“The Newman kid is a very good player,” Johnson said. “The Diekvoss kid is a tough matchup. My biggest concern with them is sometimes they kind of junk up their defense, and you saw with Missouri Southern that that can give us problems. They run a zone but it’s a trapping 2-3 zone. How we handle the different defenses, if they do that, will be a factor in how successful we are.”