Jared Vitztum powers Tigers past Newman

Rick Peterson Jr.
Hays Daily News
Fort Hays State's Jared Vitztum puts in a contested layup on Thursday against Newman.

Needing a good finish to hold off Newman, Fort Hays State's go-to guy delivered for the Tigers. 

Senior forward Jared Vitztum capped off a 25-point, 12-rebound performance with key plays down the stretch to help FHSU take a 69-64 win on Thursday at Gross Memorial Coliseum and remain in the thick of the MIAA Tournament hunt. 

"When you're in a close game, your best player has to come through down the stretch, and he definitely did tonight," FHSU coach Mark Johnson said. 

Newman led by two with 5:30 left but a 3-point play from Vitztum put the Tigers in front for good. Vitzum's contested layup later pushed the Tigers up five with 3:54 left, and FHSU put the Jets away with stops down the stretch. The Tigers moved to 6-8 on the season. 

"They were pushing us around and we were going right back at them, so it was a good little battle," Vitztum said. "It came down to the wire like it usually does with them, for some reason. We found a way to pull it out with those last couple stops and we hit a couple shots toward the end."

Vitztum, who was 9 of 15 from the field and 5 of 7 from the foul line, logged his eighth double-double of the season, which leads the NCAA Division II ranks. 

"It's almost a common occurrence to some degree," Johnson said. "Sometimes we take it for granted because he gets those double-doubles quite often. 

"I thought he was really efficient tonight. He didn't have to hunt shots. He didn't force anything. He let the game come to him."

Newman (2-12), who fell to the Tigers in overtime in the first matchup, again proved to be a tough out, trailing the Tigers by a point (37-36) at halftime. Newman guard Ian Lee scored 16 points in the first half but was held to two after the break. 

"The guys really did a great job of getting stops on the defensive end and then playing through Jared down the stretch of the game," Johnson said. "It wasn't pretty but guys did what they had to do to get the win."

Thompson, Peters post solid games 

Alvin Thompson and Gilbert Peters joined Vitztum in double figures with 13 and 10, respectively. 

"I thought Alvin was really good on the defensive end," Johnson said. "His effort was extremely high."

"You got to find away to get easy baskets, and with us at times, the way we're going to get easy baskets is throw it inside, more so a lot of times than drive it inside to score," Johnson added. "I thought we did a good job with that. Gilbert, I thought he had some good finishes."

Wright makes season debut 

Junior point guard Nyjee Wright made his season debut Thursday after recovering from surgery on a broken foot that he suffered in the preseason. 

Wright, a starter last year, played the last three minutes of the first half. Johnson said he saw an opportunity to insert Wright after guards Kaleb Hammeke and Gabe Pieschl picked up two fouls. 

"I thought he did fine," Johnson said of Wright. "He's not ready physically and for the rhythm and all that, but hopefully that will benefit us in the next week or so that he did get out there for a few minutes and hopefully shake away a little bit of the jitters."

Pieschl is now getting significant minutes off the bench after returning a couple of weeks ago from an ankle injury. 

"It's kind of like we're getting back to the team we thought we had at the beginning of the year," Vitztum said. "It's good to Nyjee get in there for a little bit at the end of the first half. I know he's not anywhere close to being his full self right now, but I know he will in the next couple weeks. It's good to have him back and good to get Gabe back for these last few games."

Heading into Saturday's game with UCO, the Tigers were in ninth place in the MIAA standings at 6-8, needing to finish in the top eight to make the conference tournament. 

"We have a sense of urgency right now, that's what we got to play with," Vitztum said. "We're 6-8 right now. We've got to get probably to 11, 12 wins to get into that tournament; we know that, and we're going to go out there and play like we know that. We just got to keep rattling off these wins and keep playing hard."