Everything was coming up roses early Thursday for the Fort Hays State University women’s basketball team.
The Tigers honored lone senior Emma Stroyan with a ceremony prior to the start of their game with Southwest Baptist University.
Then as one might expect, the home team vying for a top position in the conference jumped out to a 13-0 lead at Gross Memorial Coliseum.
Things changed in a flash, though, and the Tigers had to survive their second straight barnburner, 98-95 in overtime.
It came as no surprise to FHSU 10th-year head coach Tony Hobson, who also was recognized prior to the start of the game for his 200th FHSU victory, earned last week.
“We really jumped out good and caught them on their heels,” Hobson said of SBU, the second-highest scoring team in the MIAA. “They’re so good offensively, I knew that wouldn’t last.”
When all was said and done, the Tigers gutted out their 11th win the last 12 games. Plus, FHSU wrapped up sole possession of third place in the MIAA standings, thus putting a punctuation mark on the Tigers’ bye into Kansas City and the MIAA tournament quarterfinals.
Something FHSU needed after an emotional ride the last two weeks.
“We looked pretty tired,” Hobson said after Thursday’s barnburner. “We haven’t had two days off since Christmas. That’s a long time.”
The Tigers certainly seemed as if they were ready to just head home early. Stroyan hit the first bucket of the evening, and later hit a layup that had the Tigers up 9-0. A minute later, sophomore Kacey Kennett hit a layup that had FHSU up 13-0 with 5 minutes, 30 seconds to play in the first quarter.
SBU (15-12 overall, 7-10 MIAA) didn’t score its first bucket until the 4:54 mark, but the Bearcats started scoring at will.
The Tigers knew “we wouldn’t be able to shut them down,” Hobson said. “Once they got going and got in the open floor, they’re tough to stop.”
It didn’t help matters that the Tigers (23-5, 14-5) weren’t scoring. Still, FHSU led by 15 points with 3:04 to play before halftime. That’s when the flurry started for FHSU. SBU narrowed it to seven points by halftime, then scored the first five of the third quarter to trail by two.
“We quit scoring,” Hobson said. “It was either a turnover or something off the rim and they didn’t have to take it out where we could get back on D.”
SBU senior Megan Rosenbohm, the MIAA’s leading scorer and junior Caylee Richardson, the ninth-leading scorer, went to work. They combined for the first five points of the third, then freshman Sydney Bandy’s back-to-back 3-pointers gave SBU its first lead.
It was back-and-forth the rest of the way in a game that saw 10 ties and 16 lead changes and each team shooting better than 45 percent for the game. SBU hit nine 3s to FHSU’s five, and both teams shot 74 field goals, FHSU hitting four more.
“We looked like we played a tough nailbiter on the road Tuesday night,” Hobson said. “We found a way to get out of here with a win.”
A big part of that was defense. SBU had built up a six-point lead by the 7:13 mark of the fourth quarter with Rosenbohm and Richardson scoring at will. It was matched, though, by the play of Tiger junior Tatyana Legette, who recorded a double-double with 25 points and 11 rebounds. Kennett added 17 points, Stroyan 15 and junior Carly Heim, who had first-half foul trouble, ended up with 12.
Richardson finished with 27 to lead the way, while Rosenbohm recorded 23.
The key, though, was defense on Rosenbohm, leading to more playing time late for sophomore Belle Barbieri.
“With Belle in there we can switch all the screens,” Hobson said. “At least we cut Rosenbohm off down on the baseline. That’s what was hurting us.”
SBU also had a chance at the final shot in regulation, and it went to Rosenbahm. But Barbieri contested it well.
“It was dead on line,” Hobson said. “It just went off the heel. We were lucky there.”
SBU built up another lead in overtime on a pair of free throws to go up three. That was the largest margin, though, of the extra session. A layup by Barbieri put the Tigers on top for good. A free throw later by the sophomore put FHSU up two, and a 1-of-2 effort by Kennett set the final margin.
The Tigers now will wait for their opponent in the MIAA quarterfinals, and take a well-earned break, Hobson said.
“We need to kind of take a breath. These last four games, they really sucked our energy out of our team,” Hobson said. “