Fort Hays State men continue push

Rick Peterson Jr.
Hays Daily News
FHSU's Kaleb Hammeke dribbles at the top of the key on Thursday against Lincoln.

The Fort Hays State men took another giant step toward reaching the MIAA Tournament with a convincing 17-point win over Lincoln on Thursday. 

If the Tigers can indeed secure a spot in the conference tourney, they figure to be a tough out.

Playing about as well as any team in the conference right now, the Tigers had won six out of their last seven heading into the weekend after locking down Lincoln in the second half for an 84-67 win at Gross Memorial Coliseum. 

The win put FHSU in a three-way tie for sixth place in the conference standings at 10-9 with Lincoln and Pittsburg State. 

"It's definitely good to rattle off some wins," FHSU senior forward Jared Vitztum said. "At the beginning of the season, we were young and struggling, but we're starting to get things figured out. Getting Gabe (Pieschl) and Nyjee (Wright) back was big, as well, just getting a little more depth and not having to play as many minutes.

"We're just trying to keep this thing rolling and keep getting some wins."

FHSU led 48-43 after an entertaining first half. The Tigers buckled down defensively in the second half, holding the Blue Tigers to just 24 points after halftime. 

"The big message at halftime was: 'Guys, whichever team digs down and starts guarding is going to win the game,'" said FHSU coach Mark Johnson said. 

The Blue Tigers were still within three with about eight minutes left. Back to back 3s from Jordan Pumphrey and Quinten Rock stretched the lead to nine. Vitztum's 3-pointer with 3:15 left made it a 11-point game, starting an 11-2 run to close the game. 

Vitztum was sensational with 24 points and 14 rebounds to lead the way, producing his NCAA Division-II leading 11th double-double of the season.  

"Obviously Jared was fantastic," Johnson said. "He was going against some men out there. It was a big, physical game. For the most part, the refs were letting us play, which is a good thing. And Jared was just tough out there."

Alvin Thompson helped offset the red-hooting shooting of Lincoln in the first half. The FHSU senior guard scored 16 points before halftime, going 5 of 5 from 3. 

The Tigers finished the game 14 of 28 from deep. 

"It just seems like when one person hits shots it just trickles down," Vitztum said. "Alvin was big for us, and we kept just rattling them in that second half."

"Alvin really got us off to a good start," Johnson added. "I mean, we could not stop Lincoln to start the game. Alvin made 5 of 5 (from 3), and kept us on pace with them."

Quinten Rock added 14 points and Kaleb Hammeke finished with 12 points and eight assists. The Tigers turned it over just eight times. 

Johnson said it was a strong showing from his squad all through the lineup. He credited freshman Traejon Davis for giving the Tigers' a good spurt in the first half when Bjarni Jonsson was in foul trouble. 

"Just happy for our guys," Johnson said. "They're playing well. I was just proud of the way we braced up in the second half and got stops."

Quinton Drayton led Lincoln with 19 points. Sai Witt and Charles Wilson added 14 and 13 points, respectively. Witt, a tough matchup in the post, was held just to one point in the second half. 

"I thought the perimeter guys were a little more aggressive, we were starting to guard better, we were pressuring them more, getting our hands up, pressuring the pass inside," Johnson said. "Really with a good post player, it takes all five guys to take that away."

The Tigers were set to play Central Missouri on Saturday at Gross Memorial Coliseum. Check and Tuesday's print edition for a recap. 

"If we can win enough games to get (to the conference tournament), if I was those other teams, I wouldn't want to play us right now," Johnson said.