Nyjee Wright's best game as a Tiger couldn't have come at a better time for the Fort Hays State men.
On a night where two starters fouled out in the late stages against Newman, Wright came up clutch down the stretch, powering the Tigers to a 79-72 win on Thursday at Gross Memorial Coliseum.
Wright finished with a career-high 26 points, scoring 10 in the last 2:47 of the game to help the Tigers pull out a back-and-forth battle with the Jets and earn their third straight win.
"We needed a guy to break out and have that kind of game for us to get a cushion because we couldn't get enough stops against them," FHSU coach Mark Johnson said.
With the Tigers clinging to a two-point lead, FHSU leading scorer Jared Vitztum fouled out with 3:14 left and starter Calvin Harrington picked up his fifth foul with 1:18 remaining on a 3-point play from Marshawn Blackman that brought the Jets within a point.
But Wright delivered a big-time 3 to push the Tiger lead to four with 59 seconds left before FHSU put Newman away with stops and free throws.
"He's been in there (at the end) this year in big moments," Johnson said. "This is the first year he's ever been in the game when it matters at the end; he was behind Kyler (Kinnamon), and Kyler was the guy in the game at the end (last year). So I think he's gotten more used to being the point guard and being in the game when it's winning time."
Wright finished 8 of 10 from the floor, 4 of 5 from 3-point range and 6 of 6 from the foul line while dishing out four assists with no turnovers.
"I got a lot of shots up on Tuesday; me and Aaron (Nicholson) came in and shot on the gun for about two hours, so I think that helped," Wright said.
The Tigers (10-11, 3-9 MIAA) got off to a rough start, falling behind 18-7 before using a 12-0 run to battle back and take a 38-32 lead at the break.
"I thought to start the game we got good shots, we just couldn't make a shot," Johnson said. "I felt like we were still guarding OK, then after that long stretch of not making shots, we let our offense affect our defense and didn't guard and they got a couple looks, open threes, and they got some separation. Then we just battled back."
"We had to keep playing tough, being aggressive on offense and trying to get stops on defense," Wright said.
The teams traded buckets throughout the second half and the game was still tied with under five minutes left before a 3-pointer from Nicholson put the Tigers in front for good.
"Second half we did what we do sometimes and just can't guard anybody, and they couldn't guard," Johnson said. "It was just two teams giving up baskets right and left to each other.
"Guys made some big shots," Johnson added. "Aaron had a big three for us, and Nyjee obviously had a big night and hit some really important shots. We really liked our battle in the last two or three minutes, we just needed to do that the whole second half."
Nicholson (15), Devin Davis (13), and Vitztum (12) joined Wright in double figures. Davis pulled down a team-high nine rebounds.
FHSU finished 29 of 57 from the field while Newman was 25 of 54. Newman dropped to 8-15 overall and 2-12 in MIAA play.
Blackmon led the Jets with 21 points while Juwan Davenport recorded 10 points and 12 rebounds. David Javorsky scored 15 off the bench for the Jets.