Surging Tiger men destroy Central Missouri, 84-48

Rick Peterson Jr.
Hays Daily News
FHSU's Jared Vitztum throws down a dunk on Saturday against Central Missouri.

A furious start and dominating second half helped the Fort Hays State men turn Saturday's contest with Central Missouri into a downright blast. 

The high-flying Tigers, winners of seven of their last eight, moved into a three-way tie for fourth place in the MIAA standings with an 84-48 rout of the Mules at Gross Memorial Coliseum. 

FHSU (11-9) opened the game on an 18-2 run, and after taking a 12-point lead into halftime, dismantled the Mules in the second half to notch its largest margin of victory in its series history with UCM, passing the previous best of 27.

"In the MIAA, this doesn't happen very often," FHSU coach Mark Johnson said of the blowout. "Obviously we caught a team at the right time, and at the same time, they caught us at the wrong time. We're starting to really play well."

FHSU sophomore forward Bjarni Jonsson set the tone with an early dunk and  finished with 12 points in the first half. 

"He really got us off to a positive start," Johnson said.

FHSU hit a bit of a lull late in the first half but senior standout Jared Vitztum scored the Tigers' first 12 points in the second half on the way to his 23-point game in 24 minutes. He went 9 of 9 from the field and 3 of 3 from point range to continue a monster season. 

"He's an incredible talent and awesome to play around," FHSU redshirt freshman point guard Kaleb Hammeke said of Vitztum. "He builds confidence for you, confidence for everyone around you. When you know you have a guy like that who can still put up those numbers with the attention he draws, it helps you feel more comfortable in the flow of the game."

Vitztum had three dunks, including two off passes from Hammeke during the run to start the second half. 

"I think people were just cutting hard," Hammeke said. "They were forced to help off (Quinten Rock) a couple times early. B was able to get a dunk and Jared, he was just playing extremely hard right out of the half."

"I thought we moved without the ball as well as we have all season long," Johnson said.

The lead balooned out to 33 midway through the second half.

"I thought we really showed maturity in finishing it off," Johnson said of his young team. "We kept playing. Even when we got it to 20, we kept playing the right way and tried to get it to 30. That's what a mature team does."

Jonsson finished with 12 points while Hammeke had 12 points and six assists for the Tigers, who went 29 of 60 from the field while holding UCM tp 16 of 53. 

"Guys are just gaining confidence," Johnson said. "All around, just a pretty good performance today."

Gilbert Peters also helped get the Tigers' going rolling early with a couple quick buckets off the bench.

"I thought Gilbert really played hard both games this week," Johnson said. 

Peters and Vitztum each pulled down eight rebounds to help the Tigers amass a 41-24 advantage on the boards. 

Johnson lauded the Tigers' resolve after battling the early-season adversity. 

"It could have been easy for this whole thing to fall apart," Johnson said. "We stayed together and waited for a couple of our guys (Nyjee Wright and Gabe Pieschl) to get back. We got better, and here we are. We're really playing great."

The Tigers will play host to Missouri Western (11-9) at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at Gross Memorial Coliseum before facing 19-1 Northwest Missouri on the road Saturday in Maryville.

"We need to be looking forward to the challenge and be really excited to measure ourselves against them and play with a lot of confidence," Johnson said. "