Hampered by a slow start and an effective Lindenwood zone defense, it was a struggle for the Fort Hays State men just to stay on the Lions’ heels on Thursday night at Gross Memorial Coliseum.
After digging themselves a 12-point first-half hole, the Tigers fought back to stay within striking distance for most of the way, but they couldn’t overtake Lindenwood down the stretch, falling 73-67 to suffer just their second home loss of the season.
Lindenwood hit the Tigers with a 16-4 run in the first half to build the 12-point advantage and went into halftime up 37-31. The Lions never gave up the lead, improving to 12-14 overall and 5-9 in the MIAA while knocking FHSU to 14-9 and 8-6 in conference play.
“I think the first half is what got us beat,” FHSU coach Mark Johnson said. “On your home floor, you’ve to to be ready to go from the get-go. Get after them and make it difficult on them and make them have some doubt.
“I felt like we let them get off to a positive start, and then you have confidence and they stay with it the whole game and you put yourself in a dogfight in the second half. We couldn’t get enough stops, and more importantly, we couldn’t get a guy to step up and make important shots.”
Fort Hays was within four with six minutes left before two Lindenwood free throws a 3-pointer from T.J. Crockett pushed the Lions’ lead to nine with 5:28 left. The Tigers never got closer than five the rest of the way.
“We just had some critical turnovers at the end of the game that prevented us from making a run,” Johnson said.
Fort Hays struggled to solve Lindenwood’s zone at times, going just 5 of 23 from 3-point range.
“That zone doesn’t allow us to run our offense, take our time to get it down to Brady (Werth) and have everyone play off that,” Johnson said. “This requires you to go make plays. I think their length and size, and our lack of length and size on the perimeter, was really big against their zone.
“There was plenty of driving opportunities, we just had a hard time driving it in there. .. We just have not handled the zone very well. We’ve got to do a better job."
Junior Devin Davis was a bright spot off the bench, scoring a career-high 18 points while going 7 of 10 from the field and 4 of 4 from the foul line.
“This is a game that you’ve got to have guys like Devin,” Johnson said. “The way they play defensively, you can’t run your offense, you have to go make plays. He’s probably one of our best guys, if not our best guy, to just go make plays. He’s a physical guy, a strong guy — just go make plays at the basket. That’s what you have to do, and he did a great job of it.”
Werth was the only other Tiger in double figures, scoring 16.
With five assists in the game, FHSU senior point Kyler Kinnamon became the fourth Tiger in program history to reach the 400-assist mark for his career.
Chandler Diekvoss led the Lions with 23 points. Diego Womack added 16 while Brad Newman and Crockett each had 12.
Fort Hays finished 27 of 61 from the field and 8 of 10 from the foul line while Lindenwood was 26 of 57 from the field and 18 of 30 from the stripe. The Lions went just 3 of 18 from three.
“It’s hard to lose a game when you hold your opponent to sixteen percent from three, but somehow we did,” Johnson said.
The Tigers will play host to Lincoln (16-7, 9-5 MIAA) at 4 p.m. Saturday.