TOPEKA — At one point in the third quarter Wednesday at Lee Arena, the Fort Hays State University women’s basketball team had a 14-point lead.
In control, the Tigers looked as though an 8-0 start was well in sight.
For whatever reason, though, the Tigers uncharacteristically went into panic mode after some adversity.
Tiger coach Tony Hobson said his club never responded from that point midway through the third quarter.
The result? FHSU’s first loss, a 62-59 come-from-behind victory for MIAA foe Washburn in the Ichabods’ conference opener.
“They made a good run at us there,” Hobson said. “We kind of panicked. It kind of surprised me we would get that jittery.”
Add to that an abnormal night handling the ball for the Tigers (16 turnovers) and FHSU (7-1 overall, 2-1 MIAA) suffered its first setback after going cold in the second half — particularly in the fourth quarter when Washburn found life.
“We had a nice double digit lead and they hit a couple shots,” Hobson said. “Fatigue maybe played into it a little bit.
“You can use that excuse,” he added. “But we should have been able to finish that game.”
The teams caught fire early in the contest with Tiger junior Carly Heim leading the charge for FHSU. The Hoxie product had 10 first-half points, helping FHSU eventually gain a little momentum.
Washburn sophomore Reagan Phelan, the Ichabods’ leading scorer and point guard, went to the bench with two fouls early, and FHSU seized the opportunity to turn turnovers into points, building up a 33-24 lead by intermission.
“The foul trouble didn’t help. We turned it over 13 times, their defense played better and we couldn’t score,” Washburn coach Ron McHenry said. “We gave up 33, but the good part is we were only down 9 and still felt like we had a chance.”
The lead extended to 14 points by the 7:19 mark of the third quarter after Tiger junior Tatyana Legette — a Topeka Seaman High School grad — hit a pair of free throws.
That’s when Washburn, though, began its run.
“We were in a hole against a pretty good basketball team,” McHenry said. “We’ve done it a few times this year.”
A 3-pointer by Phelan cut the lead to single digits with 5:10 left in the third and by the end of the quarter, the Ichabods’ Alexis McAfee hit a 3-pointer to make it a one-point game heading to the final frame.
“Probably the worst thing is how soft we played the last quarter and a half,” Hobson said. “Half a dozen times where we had both hands on the ball, and they just took it out of our hands or it ended up being a jump ball.
“We just backed off and they took it to us,” he added. “We never responded”
Still, FHSU had a chance in the fourth quarter. The Tigers managed a 3-point lead after a layup by Legette, but a pair of free throws later by Legette put Washburn back up one with 26 seconds to play. Phelan, who had 17 points for Washburn, was a difference maker.
“Having Reagan back in 2nd half helped us with TOs,” McHenry said. “Hard to practice FHSU’s defense in practice. It’s hard to simulate that, so when we got into game, we were off a little bit.”
The Tigers got one more chance. Down 3 with 7.7 seconds left, FHSU got the ball inside to Legette, and were hoping to draw a foul on a shot attempt. Legette, though, couldn’t find an opening and kicked it to senior Emma Stroyan, who had hit two 3s in the game. Stroyan’s shot missed the mark and Legette’s prayer putback attempt did as well as the buzzer sounded.
Heim led FHSU with 14 points after her hot start. Sophomore Taylor Rolfs had 10, as did Legette and Stroyan.
The Tigers are off until Saturday when they travel to Emporia State for the final MIAA game before the holiday break. Washburn moved to 7-1, 1-0 in MIAA play.