Fort Hays State men's basketball shoots past Bronchos

Rick Peterson Jr.
Hays Daily News
FHSU's Quinten Rock dribbles down the lane during the Tigers' 84-82 win over UCO on Saturday.

The Fort Hays State men showed no fear in answering every big bucket from a red-hot Central Oklahoma squad.

The Tigers went 6-for-6 from the field in the last five minutes of the game, fending off the Bronchos for an 84-82 win on Saturday at Gross Memorial Coliseum. 

FHSU rallied from nine down early in the second half to complete a 3-0 homestand and move to 7-8 on the season. 

"Coach (Mark Johnson) always tell us to be confident in ourself," FHSU freshman guard Quinten Rock said. "Every practice, he's like this is our gym, 'We need to be more confident in our shot. When it's time for you to shoot it, step up and take it.' I think today we all just kind of took coach's advice. When you see a couple shots go in, it boosts your confidence even more."

In a game that featured 16 lead changes and seven ties, Rock hit a 3-pointer with a minute left to put the Tigers up two. After a UCO turnover, Alvin Thompson's layup off a gutsy drive to the bucket pushed the FHSU lead to four with 27 seconds left. 

A 3 from UCO's Callen Haydon made it a one-point game with 15 seconds left, and FHSU's Jared Vitztum was fouled and hit one of two free throws with six seconds remaining.

The Tigers then prevented the Bronchos from getting a clean look in the final seconds. They settled for a contested, desperation 3 from Carson Calavan that didn't draw iron. 

"Our guys just stuck with it and didn't panic," Johnson said of the win. "(UCO) is a very good team. They shoot the lights out."

The Bronchos took a 42-41 lead into the break after a back-and-forth first half. 

"At halftime I said, 'Guys, hey, this first half has been pretty entertaining from a fan perspective. I'm sure that was a good first half to watch. We've got to make this a little uglier game if we're going to win,' " Johnson said. "I don't know if we necessarily did that, but it was still a pretty good second half."

The Bronchos led by seven with six minutes left before the Tigers went on an 8-1 run capped off by a game-tying bucket by Kaleb Hammeke with 4:46 left. 

Hammeke later hit a 3 to put the Tigers up by a point with 2:20 left. The teams then traded buckets on three straight trips before Rock's go-ahead 3-pointer a minute left. 

FHSU's Jordan Pumphrey also hit two key threes in the second half. The Tigers went 12 of 30 from 3 for the game. 

"We try to tell our guys you're never more open than when you first catch it," Johnson said. "You got to anticipate your shot and be ready to shoot it, because a lot of times you're not ready and then you're more covered after the time you try to get ready."

After the Tigers, up two, got a stop with 36 seconds left, Thompson's high-risk, high-reward decision to go streaking toward the basket paid off when the senior guard made the layup in traffic. 

"It was no, no, no, no, no! ... Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!" Johnson said. "It was a danger play, but Alvin, he was off and gone. There was no stopping him."

"He had my heart racing," Rock said. "I was like, 'Alvin, pull it out!' But he ended up making it, and that's all we can ask for."

The play ended up looming large in the two-point win. 

"That he made it, it was a tremendous play. If he would have missed it or something, it would have been a different (matter)," Johnson said. "Sometimes when you're playing against good teams and games come down to the end, sometimes you just got to have lucky things go your way, and we got a few."

Rock broke out of a shooting slump to lead the Tigers with 23 points, going 5 of 10 from 3 and 8 of 14 from the floor. 

"I put all glory to God, he helped me through this one, for sure," Rock said. "I had to pray before the game and talk to him about it, but it feels good to finally play good again. Thankful for my teammates as well, looking for me on the shot, coach running plays for me. It felt good."

Vitztum and Thompson each had 13 points, while Hammeke and Pumphrey each contributed 11.

Johnson credited Hammeke for shaking off a rough first half and making key plays down the stretch. 

"Kaleb was doubting himself to start the second half," Johnson said. "Like I told them, 'Toughness will carry you through in everything you do.' If you're not playing well, the one thing you can do is go be tough, and usually that will get you through.' I thought he started getting tough, finished at the rim, hit a big 3 himself."

Isaiah Wade paced UCO (7-6) with 25 points and gabbed 10 rebounds. Haydon finished with 19 points. 

"They got all the pieces, they got athleticism, they got size, they got an inside presence and they got drivers and they got shooters," Johnson said of the Bronchos. "So really proud of our guys, it was a great win."

The Tigers will turn around and face Central Oklahoma again on Wednesday at 3:30 p.m. Edmond.