Tiger men looking to bounce back

Rick Peterson Jr.
FHSU freshman Kaleb Hammeke passes the ball during the Tigers' game against Emporia State on Nov. 21.

After taking two tough losses to open the season, two straight weeks of practice wasn’t an ideal situation for the Fort Hays State men’s basketball team.

What the Tigers need most is more game experience, coach Mark Johnson says.

“I wouldn’t have minded a week off, but two weeks, I don’t know if we need this because it’s been such a long preseason,” Johnson said. “Really preseason lasted two weeks longer than normal, then you come out and play, and now you got to practice for two straight weeks.

“This team, we need more game experience. A young team experiencing things for the first time. I think, for better or for worse, we need more games under their belt.”

The Tigers will finally return to the court this weekend, facing Nebraska-Kearney at 4 p.m. Saturday in UNK’s Health and Sports Arena.

The Tigers were beat at the buzzer, 80-78, against Washburn on Nov. 19 and then took a two-point loss (68-66) to Emporia State on Nov. 21.

Johnson said one point of emphasis will be feeding the ball to sophomore forward Gilbert Peters in the post more.

Bjarni Jonsson, a 6-foot-6 sophomore forward from Iceland, is another player the Tigers are hoping to get on track offensively. Jonsson scored six combined points in the first two games but gave the team a lift defensively.

“We need B out there because defensively he’s really good,” Johnson said. “He’s 6-6, he’s long, he’s athletic, he’s tough, he helps us rebound. The areas he really helps in are defense and rebounding.

“And right now, he’s playing out of position. He’s more of a high-post, low-block player, and we’re asking him to get on the perimeter, and that’s affecting him more than anybody on the team. ... He needs to relax and play with a little bit more confidence, and we probably need to put him in a spot. ... I do think he’s a guy that can get more points and more production than what he is. We just got to figure out with this lineup how to put him in a position to be more successful.”

UNK is 0-2 but the Lopers were without three seniors — Austin Luger, Jake Walker and Sam Morris — because of COVID-19 protocols in losses to Washburn and Emporia State. Those players are expected to be back for Saturday’s game.

“We’re going to be playing a much different team,” Johnson said. “They’re really spreading it out. ... It’s going to be about how well we guard their perimeter guys.”

Young players start strong for Tiger women

The debut of a heralded freshman class did not disappoint for the Fort Hays State women’s basketball team.

Freshman Katie Wagner scored 17 points as the Tigers picked up a 75-69 season-opening win over Washburn on Tuesday at Gross Memorial Coliseum. Three other freshmen saw action, with guard Sydney Golladay and post player Olivia Hollenbeck starting, while post Jessie Sallach came off the bench.

The freshmen combined for 31 points.

Hobson said before the opener that an early concern would be how his young post players, Hollenbeck and Sallach, would respond to going up against more physicality at the college level. But he thought his post players held their own against Washburn.

“With them, it’s so hard to rebound with contact on you all the time when you’re not used to it,” Hobson said. “I think they will get nothing but better with that. But I thought they did fine. I thought both Liv and Jess played pretty well for their first collegiate game.”

The Tigers are expecting a tough test against Nebraska-Kearney at 2 p.m. Saturday in the Health and Sports Center.

The Lopers are 2-0 with wins over Emporia State (59-54) and Washburn (62-52). UNK went 26-6 a year ago.