EDMOND, Okla. – Fort Hays State punched its ticket to the MIAA Tournament on Thursday night by winning a tight battle with Central Oklahoma by a score of 69-66. The Tigers moved to 16-9 overall, 10-6 in the MIAA with the win, while the Bronchos dropped to 10-15 overall, 3-13 in the MIAA.
Neither team led by more than five points in the first half, with Central Oklahoma eventually leading by that margin at halftime 34-29. The UCO lead swelled to eight twice within the first four minutes of the second half, but Fort Hays State countered with a 10-0 run capped by a Jared Vitztum three-point field goal to take a 43-41 lead. It was short lived as UCO used a 7-0 run to go back in front by five with 10:47 to play. The seesaw battle continued as Fort Hays State punched back with a 7-0 run capped by a Grant Holmes three-point field goal to take a two-point lead once more with 7:14 remaining.
In the final five minutes of the game, the teams traded the lead back-and-forth six times before Vitztum hit the biggest three-pointer of the game for FHSU with 51 seconds remaining. It extended a one-point FHSU lead to four. After a missed shot by UCO, Brady Werth pushed the lead to six at 34 seconds remaining with a pair of free throws. Werth hit another big pair of free throws at 28 seconds remaining to push the lead back to six. UCO countered with a quick three-point field goal to trim the lead down to three with 25 seconds remaining.
The final 25 seconds was a bit of an odd sequence as there was plenty of action, yet no points scored. FHSU turned the ball over by stepping out of bounds with 21 seconds remaining. UCO nearly ran the clock all the way out before getting a good look at a three-point try in the left corner, but it was no good. Kyler Kinnamon missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with just under three seconds remaining, and a three-quarter court shot for UCO hit the backboard and grazed the rim before FHSU could breathe a final sigh of relief.
Werth came on strong for the Tigers in the second half, scoring 18 of his team-high 22 points. He was 7-of-12 from the field and buried all eight of his free-throw attempts. Vitztum was critical for the Tigers from three-point range, especially in the second half. He finished with 15 points and a team-high six rebounds. Devin Davis added 13 points for the Tigers off the bench. Kinnamon dished out a team-high six assists.
Adarius Avery did the majority of the scoring for UCO with a season-high 36 points, hitting 11 field goals and 13 free throws. No other Broncho reached double figures in scoring.
Fort Hays State moved into fourth place alone in the MIAA standings with the win, now a full game ahead of Lincoln in the standings. FHSU is two games back of third-place Missouri Southern and three games back of second-place Washburn. The Tigers return to the floor on Saturday (Feb. 23) at Northeastern State University for a 3:30 pm tipoff.