Minus two starters down the stretch, the Fort Hays State men saw a valiant comeback attempt fall short on Saturday against Washburn.
The Tigers fought back from a 14-point second-half deficit to give themselves a shot late. They had two looks at a game-tying 3-pointer in the closing seconds, but both attempts bounced away as Washburn held on for a 75-72 win at Gross Memorial Coliseum.
FHSU junior forward Jared Vitztum scored a career-high 21 points but suffered an ankle injury midway through the second half and did not return. FHSU sophomore point guard Nyjee Wright was also limited to nine minutes while battling sickness.
The Tigers dropped to 7-9 overall and 1-7 in the MIAA.
“A lot of mixed emotions here,” FHSU coach Mark Johnson said. “I’m really proud of our guys for what they tried to do. Nyjee was sick and throwing up, couldn’t really play after the first (few) minutes. ... We just kind of kept hanging around, hanging around.
“Obviously Jared was having a great game — probably the best game of his career — then he went down, and we could have just went away. I was proud of our guys for even giving themselves an opportunity.”
But Johnson also pointed to breakdowns that allowed Washburn to build its cushion.
“We just had too many mental things on the court that just kill us,” Johnson said. “We came out of the timeout and arguably one of the best shooters in the conference (Jalen Lewis) was carelessly not being guarded and he hits a three and we lose by three.
“We do so many things to hurt ourselves — that’s disappointing and frustrating. At the same time, I’m really proud of the guys for giving themselves a chance.”
Washburn junior guard Tyler Geiman hit three 3-pointers in the final minute of the first half to help give WU a 34-26 lead at halftime. The Ichabods then scored the first seven points of the second half thanks to a dunk and layup from Jace Williams and a 3-pointer from Lewis.
But Fort Hays hung tough, eventually whittling the lead down to three after a putback from Jake Hutchings with 37 seconds remaining. After a Washburn turnover, Aaron Nicholson’s floater brought the Tigers within one with 16 seconds left.
Following two made free throws from Washburn’s Drew Maschoff, Nicholson got off a contested look at a 3-pointer with about five seconds left. Hutchings grabbed the rebound and retreated back to the 3-point line, but his attempt also bounced away as time expired.
“Didn’t get a great look, thought we did a great job of trying to get the offensive putback,” Johnson said. “Jake did a great job of getting a rebound and trying to get us an attempt.
“Like I said, I’m disappointed on two fronts. I’m disappointed for our guys because I thought they tried and had a lot of adversity — probably our two best players weren’t there at the end. But you can’t have the mistakes we made, breakdowns defensively over and over again.”
Vitztum finished 6 of 10 from the field, 3 of 5 from 3-point range and 6 of 8 from the foul line. He also grabbed 10 rebounds to notch a double-double.
Nicholson added 17 points for the Tigers while Alvin Thompson finished with 10.
Geiman led the Ichabods with 15 points and dished eight assists. Jace Williams added 14 points off the bench for WU, while Maschoff had 12.
The Tigers will play at Missouri Western on Thursday before taking on defending national champion Northwest Missouri on Saturday in Maryville.