Fort Hays State men look to stay hot

Rick Peterson Jr.
Hays Daily News
Quinten Rock and the Fort Hays State men's basketball team will play host to Lincoln at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Gross Memorial Coliseum.

Last week's crucial road swing started with one of the most impressive shooting stretches 20th-year Fort Hays State men's basketball coach Mark Johnson could recall witnessing. 

The Tigers came out on absolute fire on Wednesday at Central Oklahoma, hitting their first nine attempts from 3 to open up an 18-point lead en route to an 89-79 win over the Bronchos. 

The shooting display set the tone for a productive week for the Tigers, who went 2-1 on the Oklahoma trip to move to 9-9 and remain in the hunt to make the MIAA Tournament. 

"I don't ever remember doing any better than nine for nine to start the game," Johnson said. "(UCO is) such a good offensive team. It took all of that, making 17 3s, to win a fairly close game. Just got us off to a great start.

"It's just crazy how in basketball things can carry over to each individual ... It's contagious. Kaleb (Hammeke) kind of got a hot hand, made his first couple of threes. Then it was the next guy, the next guy, the next guy. It was fun to watch."

The Tigers continued to shoot it fairly well from deep in their next two outings, hitting 10 3s in a 69-66 loss to Rogers State and knocking down nine treys in a 73-58 win at Northeastern State. 

Fort Hays will look to keep that trend going when it plays host to Lincoln at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Gross Memorial Coliseum. 

Johnson is convinced that the recent return of Gabe Pieschl and Nyjee Wright from injuries has helped out all his shooters. 

"I would think there would probably have to be some correlation there, how much I don't know," Johnson said. "Fresher legs at times. We just hadn't been able to take some guys out. Kaleb and Quinten (Rock) are still playing a lot of minutes, but even getting four or five extra minutes of rest and being able to be taken out at least once each half, I think makes them a little more fresher."

Johnson said the Tigers' team chemistry has also been key in helping FHSU win five of its last six games. 

"It is a touchy situation when you start bringing in guys to play at the middle to the end of the year," he said. "Bringing in Gabe and Nyjee, that's affecting other guys' minutes. Some guys maybe aren't playing as much or getting as many opportunities, and that can be a tough thing for your team to deal with. It really hasn't been a factor with our guys at all.

"Our guys just want to win. They're excited that we're having some success right now and really welcomed those guys back."

FHSU senior Jared Vitztum continues to lead the way. The TMP-Marian product eclipsed the 1,000-point mark in his Tiger career last week. He leads the NCAA Division II ranks in doubles-doubles this season with 10. 

"Very impressive," Johnson said of Vitztum, who is averaging 17.9 points and 9.9 rebounds. "He's had a great year. ... Jared just does a great job of going after rebound. And he's a skilled guy, a tough matchup, whether it's three-pointers, mid-range, and he's really improved his post play over the years. He's really become a complete player."

The Tigers are currently tied with Rogers State for the eighth spot in the conference standings, while Pittsburg State sits in the seventh spot at 10-9. 

Lincoln is tied for fifth with Missouri Western at 10-8. The Blue Tigers beat Fort Hays 76-64 in their first matchup in Jefferson City. 

"Lincoln is a big, physical team," Johnson said. "Sevon Witt inside is a big matchup. The (Quinton) Drayton kid hurt us. They got a new kid in at semester that we didn't play the first time. That's another big-bodied kid. Cameron Potts, their point guard, is the most physical guard in the league.

"It will be a physical matchup for us."