Clutch sharpshooting from Washburn in the final minute squashed Fort Hays State’s bid for a come-from-behind win in Thursday’s season opener.
After trailing by as much as 14 in the first half, the Tigers were on the verge of victory when Jared Vitztum hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with 8.3 seconds left.
But Washburn guard Jalen Lewis snatched the game from the Tigers’ grasp, burying a clean look from 3 as time expired to hand FHSU an 80-78 loss at Gross Memorial Coliseum.
"Unfortunately, as soon as he jumped up to shoot it, as good of a shooter as he is, you just kind of knew it was in," Fort Hays State coach Mark Johnson said. "I was like, ’That’s going to go in.’ "
Trailing by a point with 2.8 seconds left, WU’s Tyler Nelson caught the inbounds pass on the right wing and dribbled into traffic near the free-throw line before finding Lewis at the top of the key.
Lewis took a quick dribble to his left and barely beat the buzzer.
"I had drawn up a man play and (Fort Hays) went zone, so to be honest, that was improvised," Washburn coach Brett Ballard said. "We’re fortunate that we have a pretty experienced backcourt ... they ended up making the right play. Jalen was able to free himself, and we were lucky the shot went in."
It was the last of three 3-pointers Washburn came up with in the final 1:14.
"They made their last three 3s — all big plays — and that was the difference in the game," Johnson said.
After FHSU went up by four with 1:25 to go, Drew Maschoff’s trey cut the Tiger lead to a point.
The Ichabods then got a stop and regained the lead on Lewis’ 3-pointer with 19 seconds left.
Vitztum got a friendly bounce on a 3 to put the Tigers in front before the Tigers knocked it out of bounds with 2.8 seconds left before Lewis’ capper.
"Obviously, when you hit that shot to put you up one with eight seconds left, and (Bjarni Jonsson) deflects it out with two, you just feel like it’s a meant-to-be type of thing," Vitztum said. "It’s definitely a tough loss."
WU came out hot from 3 and the young Tigers struggled to find their footing early. But after trailing 27-13, FHSU went on a 12-2 run to cut the lead to four. WU led 38-34 at halftime before Fort Hays scored four quick points after the break to knot it at 38.
"We were just playing scared (early), and that’s understandable, " Johnson said. "... I think just opening up and hitting a few shots kind of relaxed our team."
The Tigers grabbed the lead on six occasions in the second half.
WU finished 28 of 55 from the floor and 14 of 29 from 3-point range, while FHSU was 27 of 61 from the field and 11 of 20 from 3.
"Offensively we were better than I thought," Johnson said. "... But defensively we just didn’t get enough stops.
"I felt like our inexperience and youth might have showed up just as much or more on the defensive end as it did on the offensive end. Feel bad for our guys. They really rallied up."
Vitztum fought through an off night to put the Tigers on his back late, scoring 10 points in the last 2:26.
"It’s what I got to do for this team -- I’ve got to close out the ballgame," Vitztum said. "I got to play better throughout. I didn’t get off to a good start, and that’s on me. I’ve got to finish around the rim better, I’ve got to be a little bit tougher, work a little bit harder to get open, and I’ll do that.
"We’ve just got to keep having the younger guys step up like they did tonight. They played really well."
Vitztum finished 6 of 16 from the floor.
"He was a huge key in our scouting report," Ballard said. "I thought we did a pretty good job on him. He got 16, but he took 16 shots. He made a big shot late. He’s really good. Fortunately some shots he normally makes didn’t go in."
Senior Alvin Thompson added 14 while newcomers Quinten Rock and Jordan Pumphrey scored 12 points each to help pick up the scoring slack for the Tigers. Pumphrey was 4 of 5 behind the arc.
"That’s encouraging that even without Jared playing at his best, we scored in the high 70s and had a great opportunity to win the game," Johnson said. "We know Jared’s not going to play like this every night."
WU guards Lewis, Maschoff and Tyler Geiman combined for 55 points and 11 3-pointers. Maschoff and Geiman shared game-high honors with 20 each. Lewis added 15 points, going 5 of 7 from behind the arc.
Attendance is limited to 25% of maximum capacity for FHSU home games. The crowd was listed at 1,265 on Thursday.
"I felt for the first 10 minutes it kind of felt a little off, not having much fans there and not having the cheerleaders and the band closer to us," Vitztum said. "But we settled in and it felt like a normal game. It was competitive, obviously, and came down to the wire like most MIAA games.
"It felt good to be back out there."
The FHSU men were set to play against Emporia State at 4 p.m. Saturday in GMC. Check hdnews.net and Sunday’s print edition for a recap.
The FHSU women’s game against ESU was postponed because of COVID-19 protocols. The Tigers women’s scheduled exhibition against Kansas State on Wednesday in GMC has been canceled.
WASHBURN 80, FORT HAYS STATE 78
Washburn (1-0) — McKee 0-1 0-0 0, Clausing 2-6 2-6 6, Maschoff 7-15 2-4 20, Geiman 7-13 4-7 20, Lewis 5-7 0-0 15, Nelson 2-6 0-0 5, Williams 2-2 2-2 6, Braun 2-4 0-0 6, Deffebaugh 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 28-55 10-19 80.
Fort Hays State (0-1) — Jonsson 1-3 0-0 2, Vitztum 5-16 4-5 16, Peters 4-7 1-1 9, Thompson 5-8 2-2 14, Hammeke 3-9 0-0 7, Rock 4-9 2-2 12, Davis 1-3 4-4 6, Pumphrey 4-6 0-0 12. Totals 27-61 13-14 78.
Halftime — Washburn 38-34. 3-point goals: WU 14-29 (Lewis 5-7, Maschoff 4-8, Geiman 2-7, Braun 2-4, Nelson 1-3), FHSU 11-20 (Pumphrey 4-5, Thompson 2-2, Vitztum 2-4, Rock 2-6, Hammeke 1-2, Davis 0-1). Rebounds — WU 36 (Maschoff 6), FHSU 31 (Vitztum 9). Assists — Washburn 19 (Geiman 9), Fort Hays 15 (Hammeke 4, Rock 4). Turnovers — Washburn 17, Fort Hays 13. Fouls — Washburn 18, Fort Hays 18. Fouled out — none. Technical fouls — none. A — 1,265.