After digging themselves a 15-point hole early in the second half against Pittsburg State, the Fort Hays State men used a furious rally to ensure it was a memorable senior day.
The Tigers trailed by nine at halftime and gave up back-to-back 3-pointers to open the second half before unleashing a 25-9 run to grab the lead.
The game was locked at 58 with 5:30 left, but the Tigers put it away with a 13-0 run to claim a 71-61 victory over the Gorillas on Saturday at Gross Memorial Coliseum.
“We called a timeout (after falling behind by 15), and coach was talking about how we have to flip a switch,” FHSU senior forward Brady Werth said. “As seniors, I think we took charge.”
The Tigers (18-10, 12-7 MIAA) recognized its five-player senior class of Werth, Marcus Cooper, Kyler Kinnamon, Trey O’Neil and Grant Holmes before the game. All five seniors started.
“I thought the game kind of showed who our seniors are — the character of them and the fact that it hasn’t always been pretty,” FHSU coach Mark Johnson said. “But they fight, they battle and they’re going to go down swinging.”
Werth trimmed the lead to five with 11:30 left before back-to-back layups from Nyjee Wright put Fort Hays in front.
Down the stretch, Werth scored six straight points after the game was tied at 58 and Cooper’s 3-point play with 2:20 left pushed the lead to nine. The Tigers shot a blistering 63 percent from the field (17 of 27) after halftime.
“We definitely had some magic,” Werth said. “As long as we can stay within five points in the last five minutes, we can find a way to win it.”
Werth led the Tigers with 20 points on 9-of-15 shooting, surpassing the 1,000-point milestone in the process. The Hays High product also grabbed a game-high 14 rebounds.
“It’s meant a lot to me; I’m so glad I came to Fort Hays State,” Werth said. “It’s my hometown, and I’m very pleased that I could reach 1,000 points.”
Trey O’Neil added 13 points for the Tigers and Wright finished with 11, helping spark Fort Hays' rally in the second half.
“(Wright’s) finally coming out of his shell a little bit and putting the on button on,” Johnson said. “When he does that, he gives us the offense that we need.”
The Tigers held Pittsburg State to 36.5 percent form the field and contained Pittsburg State standout guard Grant Lozoya, who was held to nine points on 3-of-11 shooting. Donovan Franklin led the Gorillas with 11, going of 5 of 15 from the field.
The Fort Hays State men will be the No. 4 seed in next week's MIAA Tournament in Kansas City, Mo. The Tigers will play Lincoln in the quarterfinals at noon on Friday in Municipal Auditorium.