Desperate for a win, a scrappy defensive effort got the job done for the Fort Hays State men.
Fort Hays State ended a four-game slide and picked up its first MIAA victory, pulling out a 56-46 defensive struggle against Emporia State on Wednesday night at Gross Memorial Coliseum.
"We needed to find a way to win," FHSU coach Mark Johnson said. "It was kind of like we talked about, 'Enough is enough, man. We got to win this game no matter how we play.'
"I was proud of our guys. I thought we guarded for 40 minutes, the whole way through."
Both teams struggled from the field, with FHSU shooting 33.9% and ESU 32.7%. Emporia State committed 14 turnovers while Fort Hays State had just five.
"We were telling ourselves all week in practice and all throughout the game, just keep locking in and keep playing defense, and if we get stops, it's going to translate to offense," FHSU junior forward Jared Vitztum said.
The Tigers and Hornets were locked at 22 at halftime but Fort Hays opened the second half on a 10-0 run to take control. ESU trimmed the lead to three with eight minutes left but Fort Hays answered with another 10-0 run.
Nyjee Wright later helped put the game out of reach with back-to-back 3s to restore a 13-point lead with 3:43 left.
"We've got to have that. We've got to have more guys making plays and being aggressive," Johnson said. "Our guards, they can't be so passive. (Wright) made some big plays down the stretch."
FHSU moved to 7-8 overall and 1-6 in MIAA play. Johnson said the Tigers talked about hitting the reset button on their season following last week's loss at Rogers State that pushed their losing skid to four.
"What's done is done, you can't go change the past," Johnson said of his team's mindset. "Let's start over and have a refreshed look here, and let's not be so panicked. We're 0-0, just like before the season started, and let's see what we can accomplish in our last 14 games."
"We've been in almost every game other than the Missouri Southern game, so we just got to keep grinding it out and these games are going to start flipping it our favor," Vitztum said. "We just got to keep playing hard and playing together."
Vitztum continued his solid stretch for the Tigers, scoring a game-high 17 points and grabbing eight rebounds.
"When you play tough and you play physical, usually good things happen," Johnson said. "He's finishing at the rim better. He's shooting the ball well. He's really having a nice year, and hopefully that continues."
Wright joined Vitztum in double figures with 11 points, all in the second half.
Johnson also credited the play of 6-foot-6, 265-pound redshirt freshman Gilbert Peters, who played 23 minutes off the bench.
"I really felt like he affected the game," Johnson said. "He just makes us a bigger team. At times we're not the tallest team and we also become pretty thin. Just having that presence out there, a bigger guy, I thought made a big difference. He played really well."
Duncan Fort and Zac Owens each scored 10 points for ESU, which dropped to 9-6 and 3-3 in the MIAA.
FHSU will play host to Washburn at 4 p.m. Saturday in Gross Memorial Coliseum.