Comeback falls short for Tiger men

FHSU Sports Information

WARRENSBURG, Mo. – Fort Hays State dropped its second-straight road contest on Thursday night (Jan. 7) with a 71-64 setback at Central Missouri. The Tigers trailed by 11 at halftime and had two second-half surges that came up short as they move to 3-5 on the season. UCM moved to 2-6.

FHSU's Jared Vitztum scored 22 points in Thursday's loss at Central Missouri. [File photo/HDN]

The Tigers put themselves in a hole early in the game when a rash of careless turnovers helped fuel a 17-2 run by the Mules in the middle of the first half after the score was tied 12-12. Six of the Tigers' 10 first-half turnovers came during that run. Four of the turnovers in the run turned into 11 points for the Mules. UCM had 15 first-half points off turnovers, taking a 38-27 lead into halftime.

The Tigers made a quick run at the Mules early in the second half as Jared Vitztum scored 10 of FHSU's first 12 points out of the break. A 12-4 run by the Tigers to open the half had the UCM lead down to just three with 16:27 to go, but Jalen Blaize of UCM put an end to the threat by making a pair of 3-point field goals on consecutive trips to push the lead back to nine. A layup just a few ticks past the 15-minute mark had the lead right back to 11 for UCM, the margin it led by at the half.

The lead teetered between 13 and seven points for the Mules over the next five minutes, but the Tigers started to threaten once more between the 10 and 5-minute marks. UCM led by 11 with 9:26 to go, but the Tigers held the Mules scoreless over 4:42 of action, trimming the lead down to just two with a 9-0 run. Gilbert Peters had five of the nine points in the Tiger run, while Alvin Thompson and Kaleb Hammeke pitched in two each.

Central Missouri snapped the 9-0 run by making a free throw with 4:44 to go, but FHSU squandered two straight possessions to either tie or pull within one by turning the ball over back-to-back possessions. UCM pushed its lead back to five after the latter of the Tiger turnovers and FHSU cut the lead to three one more time. However, a 5-0 burst pushed the UCM lead to eight with 1:30 to go in the game, which was too much for the Tigers to overcome. FHSU cut the lead to five twice more before the final margin settled at seven.

Vitztum scored 17 of his team-high 22 points after halftime. He was just one rebound shy of a double-double, finishing with a team-best nine. Peters had an efficient night with 13 points, going 5-of-6 from the field and 3-of-5 at the free-throw line. He added six rebounds. Thompson was the only other Tiger in double figures for scoring with 11. Hammeke led the Tigers in assists with four.

Ja'Cor Nelson led the Mules with 22 points on 11-of-16 shooting from the field. Blaize added 20 points and Gaven Pinkley had 13 for UCM.

Ultimately FHSU finished with a season-high 18 turnovers, which led to 22 points for UCM. UCM finished at 54.7 percent shooting from the field, while holding FHSU to 44.7 percent. FHSU was 18-of-24 at the free-throw line, making nine more free throws than UCM, but UCM had eight more field goals in the game to make up for the deficit in free throws.

The Tigers face another challenging road contest on Saturday when they travel to Lincoln University (5-2) in Jefferson City, Mo. Tipoff is set for 3 pm at Jason Gym, which follows the women's contest at 1 pm.