Fort Hays State men even up record with solid 78-71 win over Rogers State

Rick Peterson Jr.
Hays Daily News

After starting the season 0-3, Mark Johnson can't help but be impressed by the way his young, undermanned Tigers have responded to the challenge. 

The Fort Hays State men evened up their record at 3-3 with a solid 78-71 win over Rogers State on Sunday at Gross Memorial Coliseum.

"I think our guys have really done a good job to find a way to be 3-3," Johnson said. "Really, a lot of these guys are being pressed into situations we would have never anticipated before the year started. We thought we could bring them along. 

"Now they've really met the challenge. It's only going to get harder second semester but I'm really proud of these guys for stepping up and being able to accomplish the things they have so far."

Quinten Rock scored 20 of his career-high 24 points after halftime to help FHSU gain separation from the Hillcats. Alvin Thompson and Jared Vitztum finished with 17 each for the Tigers, who have four won straight including an exhibition win at Kansas State that started the turnaround. 

Quinten Rock had a career-high 24 points for Fort Hays in an 78-71 win over Rogers State on Sunday at Gross Memorial Coliseum.

Rock, a freshman from Aurora, Colo., hit four 3-pointers (all in the second half) and finished 12 of 13 from the foul line. 

"Quinten was obviously really good offensively," Johnson said. "But I thought that was the best and hardest he's played on the defensive end. We already know how talented he is. If he can continue to do that (defensively), that's going to make a big difference for us."

Thompson helped spark the Tigers in the first half with 12 points. The senior guard bounced back from a one-point outing at Newman with 32 points over the last two games. 

"After the Newman game, I was just frustrated with how I played,"  Thompson said. "As one of the returners, usually when I get going it gets other guys going as well. I'm just really locking in and playing the game and not getting frustrated."

"I thought he stepped up big," Johnson said of Thompson. "He's shot the ball extremely well this season. You take away that Newman game, he's been really good. We need that extra punch."

Bjarni Jonsson also added a career-high 11 points for FHSU. 

"B's giving us points now, and that's big," Johnson said.

Vitztum grabbed 10 rebounds to go along with his 17 points to notch another double-double. 

The Tigers built a 13-point lead in the first half but Rogers State closed the half on a 8-0 run to make it 39-34 at the break.

"We had a really good first half, we just didn't finish it very well," Johnson said. 

Fort Hays opened the second half with three 3-pointers — two from Rock, one from Thompson — for a 9-0 run.

The Hillcats hit the Tigers with a couple spurts in the second half but the Tigers maintained a cushion. 

FHSU went 22 of 46 from the field, 9 of 21 from 3 and 25 of 28 from the foul line.

Rogers State (2-5) was led by Ricardo Lynch’s 16, followed by Darraja Parnell with 13, Joey Saracco with 12 and Jett Sternberger with 11. RSU shot 41% from the field.

"I thought we had stretches in each half, probably the best defensive stretch we've had all year," Johnson said. "I thought we were scrambling around, making reads, really made it hard on them."

Johnson's biggest critique was that the Tigers, playing a smaller lineup, lost the rebounding battle, 38-29. 

"After the Kearney game, we realized we've got to play smaller," Johnson said. "We've got to have those three little guards in there with Jared and B. But we're getting killed on the glass, and I don't really know the answer to that. We've got to be tougher and the guards have got to be more involved."

But overall, "I thought our guys showed some toughness because Rogers is a physical team," Johnson said. "Rogers and Missouri Western, to me, are the two more physical teams (in the MIAA), and I thought we stood our ground tonight."

With Nyjee Wright, Gabe Pieschl and Haggan Hilgendorf out with injuries, FHSU is using an eight-man rotation.

Johnson said entering the holiday break when the Tigers are playing their best basketball is a Catch 22.  

"We need a break, but we don't need a break," he said. "I think physically all those guys need a break, but we're starting to come into our own a little bit and you hate to go take a week off. 

"But it is what it is. We were very fortunate first semester that we didn't miss a game (because of COVID-19). You never know what's going to happen. We talk about it all the time, when it's time to play, don't take it for granted, enjoy it."

The Tigers are set to play at Central Oklahoma on Jan. 2. 

"We just got to continue to build off it and not look back," Thompson said. "We can't get ahead of ourselves either."