Fort Hays State men's basketball pulls out hard-fought win over Northeastern State
Five games into his college career, Fort Hays State freshman Quinten Rock knows nothing but knockdown, drag-out battles in the MIAA.
The Tigers found themselves in another war on Friday night against Northeastern State at Gross Memorial Coliseum, fending off the RiverHawks for an 81-76 victory.
"I'm starting to realize as a freshman that none of these games are going to be easy, no matter what happens," Rock said. "Coach (Mark) Johnson told us from the very beginning that every game is going to be a dogfight, no matter if the team is undefeated or they've lost every game.
"I was proud of everybody today. We fought hard."
Outside of a 13-point exhibition win at Kansas State, every game has been decided by five points or fewer for the 2-3 Tigers.
"Five games, this is how they've all gone. That's how it's going to be," Johnson said. "One, it's just the league. Two, our lack of depth really shows, I think, at moments. It's just not allowing us to push away. We've got to find a way at the end to win the game."
The Tigers did that on Friday, using a 3-pointer from Alvin Thompson to push it to four with 4:39 to go. The RiverHawks never got closer than three the rest of the way.
"... I just thought we stepped up and made plays," Johnson said.
Jared Vitztum scored a team-high 20 points, Rock added a career-high 19 and Thompson chipped in 15.
Rock went 4 of 8 from the field and was 10 of 12 at the foul line, while Vitztum finished 7 of 11 from the field and 5 of 6 at the line.
"I think when everybody contributes together — instead of having one superstar — then everybody wants to play harder and everybody wants to win more," said Rock, an Aurora, Colo., native. "I think if we continue to grow together, play together and stay together, then I think we can be really good this year."
A tip-in from Bjarni Jonsson got the Tigers tied at 39 heading into halftime.
Thompson delivered timely buckets for the Tigers in the second half, including a one-handed dunk that gave FHSU the lead with 13:34 left. Kaleb Hammeke then came up with a steal and and lobbed it to Thompson in transition for a layup to put the Tigers up four. FHSU stayed in front the rest of the way, though NSU got within a point on three occasions.
"It kind of got us over the hump," Johnson said of Thompson's spurt. "We had a little bit of a push, and you just kind of hang on there. That's what you've got to do, you've got to have your defense lead to offense.
"That's probably the best job we've done all year as far as our defense leading to some easy baskets."
After Jonsson fouled out with 4 minutes left, FHSU freshman Traejon Davis was involved in key plays down the stretch. His layup made it a seven-point game with 1:55 left. He grabbed a tough rebound in traffic with 1:33 left and pulled down an offensive board with 24 seconds left while the Tigers were protecting a four-point lead.
"Those were little things that maybe people don't recognize, but that helps you win a game," Johnson said.
The RiverHawks (1-4) cut it to three with 5 seconds left before two free throws from Rock sealed it.
Hammeke shook off a rough first half to finish with 10 points and a team-high six assists.
"I thought Kaleb really showed character," Johnson said.
Jonsson pulled down a team-high seven rebounds to go along with eight points.
The Tigers finished 26 of 54 from the field for 48% while Northeastern went 27 of 61 for 44%. NSU shot just 36% after halftime.
NSU's Troy Locke led all scorers with 21 points. Brad Davis added 15 points while Trey Sampson had 12 points and 10 rebounds.
Fort Hays State will face Rogers State at 4 p.m. Sunday in the last game before the holiday break.
Rogers State (2-4) is coming off a 66-60 win at Nebraska-Kearney.
"They will be as physical and tough as any team that we play, and that's going to be a challenge for us," Johnson said.
FORT HAYS STATE 81, NORTHEASTERN ST. 76
Northeastern State (1-4) — Sampson 6-10 0-0 12, Agu 2-6 1-2 6, Bailey 2-5 3-4 8, Davis 6-10 0-0 15, Perkins 2-8 3-7 7, Locke 6-12 9-13 21, Cook 1-4 0-0 2, Dotson 1-3 0-0 3, Prince 1-3 0-0 2. Totals 27-6116-26 76.
Fort Hays State (2-3) — Jonsson 3-6 2-3 8, Vitztum 7-11 5-6 20, Thompson 6-10 1-2 15, Rock 4-8 10-12 19, Hammeke 4-10 1-2 10, Peters 0-1 2-2 2, Pumphrey 1-2 0-0 3, Davis 1-6 2-2 4. Totals 26-54 23-29 81.
Halftime — Tied 39-39. 3-point goals — NSU 6-26 (Davis 3-7, Agu 1-3, Bailey 1-3, Sampson 0-2, Locke 0-1, Perkins 0-5, Cook 0-2, Prince 0-1). FHSU 6-16 (Thompson 2-4, Vitztum 1-2, Rock 1-3, Hammeke 1-2, Pumphrey 1-2, Davis 0-2, Jonsson 0-1). Rebounds — NSU 38 (Sampson 10), FHSU 32 (Jonsson 7). Assists — NSU 13 (Sampson 2, Davis 2, Locke 2). FHSU 15 (Hammeke 6). Total fouls — NSU 23, FHSU 20. Turnovers — NSU 9, FHSU 9. Fouled out — Jonsson. Technical foul — Rock. Attendance — 637.