Fort Hays State, ranked No. 3 in the WBCA poll, entered the fourth quarter Saturday at Northwest Missouri State with only a three-point lead. The Tigers were coming off a two-point, heart-wrenching loss at No. 5 Missouri Western two days earlier.
In that loss, Fort Hays held an 18-point halftime lead.
“We didn’t want to go on a road swing and lose both games,” said Fort Hays senior guard Chelsea Mason. “We needed to take that anger and disappointment and come out and do what we needed to do against Northwest Missouri.”
The Tigers looked every ounce of a top five team in the fourth quarter. It started with a three-point field goal from junior guard Jill Faxon and that sparked a 7-0 run that gave Fort Hays a 10-point lead.
Fort Hays went on to easily win 61-46 to improve to 17-2 overall and 11-2 and second place in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association. Because Missouri Western lost at home on Saturday, the Tigers are just one game out of first place.
“Coach was talking about it just before the game, when you have a tough game like that, it is a good thing to bounce back,” Faxon said. “It was really important for us to come together as a team. We did. We played well today.”
It is not surprising that Fort Hays quickly rebounded from a tough loss. Last year the Tigers finished 30-4 and reached the Central Regional championship game. They were just one win away from making the NCAA Division II Elite Eight.
Mason said these last three years have been special for her. In the 2013-14 season, Fort Hays finished 21-8.
“They have been the best three years I have ever played basketball in the 14 years I have been playing,” Mason said. “Last year I learned it was very important to be a leader that I know I can be and my coaches and teammates know that I can be. I don’t want to end my career upset that I didn’t do this or I didn’t contribute more than just scoring. I know my team needs me to rebound and play defense and stuff like that other than scoring.”
Mason leads the Tigers in scoring, averaging over 13 points per game. Against Northwest, she scored seven points, which proved her point of doing more than just scoring.
Faxon, who is second on the team in scoring, had 15 points against Northwest, and senior forward Paige Lunsford had 14.
Defense is where Fort Hays excels the most. The Tigers are holding teams to 37 percent shooting from the field.
“When we are working hard and working together, our defense can be very good,” Faxon said. “We have so many quick girls out there and we have some post players who help inside taking charges. We have girls in the lane being aggressive. I think our defense is one of the things that fuels our offense.”
The winning last year gained Fort Hays attention nationally. This year the Tigers don’t pay attention to the polls as much.
“We consider it, but we don’t really think about it,” Faxon said. “Last year, coming from the bottom all the way to the top, that was cool. Now, we don’t worry about it. We focus on our game and how we play and let the chips fall where they fall.”
Fort Hays doesn’t face Missouri Western the rest of the regular season. The two teams could meet again at the MIAA tournament, and possibly the Central Regional if both teams advance to the NCAA Division II tournament. If it happens, Faxon said the Tigers will be ready.
“We know that we can beat them,” Faxon said. “That is what we learned from that game. We just need to finish and that means getting stops on defense. We weren’t aggressive. We were a little timid.”
Games to Watch Recap
Alabama-Huntsville 73, West Florida 61
Alabama-Huntsville junior Michael Gilmore came off the bench and scored 19 points in 21 minutes of action, leading the Chargers to their second straight victory. Alabama-Huntsville is 13-5 overall and 10-3 and tied for first with West Georgia in the Gulf South Conference.
No. 11 Angelo State 91, No. 4 Midwestern State 83 OT
Angelo State men’s basketball team went 10 for 18 from three-point range and handed Midwestern State its first loss in the Lone Star Conference. Junior guard Quay King was five for six from behind the arc and finished with 21 points. Angelo State improved to 15-3 overall and 3-3 in conference. Midwestern State dropped to 16-2 and 5-1.
No. 8 Western Oregon 76, Alaska-Anchorage 66
Western Oregon men’s basketball team moved into a first-place with its win on Thursday. Senior forward Andy Avgi scored 31 points for the Wolves. After winning on Saturday, Western Oregon is 16-2 overall and 9-1 and tied for first with Alaska-Anchorage in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference. Alaska-Anchorage, also won its next game.
Northern State 76, Minnesota Crookston 70
Northern State women’s basketball team moved into first place in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference North Division with a road win at Minnesota Crookston. Northern State is 15-4 overall and 11-3 in the North Division. Minnesota Crookston dropped to 13-5 and 10-4 and in a three-way tie for second with MSU Moorhead and St. Cloud State. Sophomore forward Jill Conrad went 14 for 18 from the field and finished with 32 points for Northern State.
No. 12 Emporia State 53, Washburn 41
Emporia State women’s basketball team went on the road and beat its rival to stay in contention for the MIAA title. Emporia State, 15-3 overall remains in third place in the MIAA with a 9-3 record. The 41 points were the fewest Washburn has scored in 96 meetings against Emporia State.
Nebraska-Kearney wrestling squad rolls up two more dual victories
Nebraska-Kearney wrestling team is a little over a week away before coach Marc Bauer starts to get the Lopers in peak mode in early February for NCAA Division II Super Region IV on Feb. 26-27 and the NCAA Championships March 11-12.
The previous three days certainly helped in the process for the No. 5 ranked Lopers. On Thursday, they won 23-15 in a dual at Fort Hays State and Saturday, the Lopers spent 12 hours on the road traveling to and from Warrensburg, Mo. They made the three hours competing worthwhile. Nebraska-Kearney beat the University of Central Missouri 37-10 and improved its dual record to 12-2.
“We want to continue to sharpen their conditioning and start our peaking process in early February,” Bauer said. “January tends to be a tougher time of the year because we don’t start our peaking phase until February. You try to stay away from injuries and those types of things. It is more of a grind.”
One of the good things that came out of the dual at Central Missouri was the performance of junior Destin McCauley. He won his 149-pound match by technical fall.
“He has had a tough year,” Bauer said. “He had a shoulder injury. We are just getting him back. He finished third in the nation for us last year. He is a dynamite talent. We still have time to get him where we need him to be.”
Nebraska-Kearney is coming off a season in which it finished second in the national tournament and it has many of the same wrestlers back, including senior Daniel DeShazer at 133 pounds and senior Romero Cotton at 197 pounds. They both won their matches at Central Missouri on falls.
In previous seasons, they were big points producers at the national championship.
“He (DeShazer) has been a fixture in our program the last four years,” Bauer said. “He is a three-time national finalist and two-time national champ. You are talking 20-plus points in the national tournament every year. He is a big part of our program.
“When you have somebody as skilled as him and as confident as him, going out putting up a lot of points, it takes pressure off the rest of the guys and fires everybody up.”
Cotton is also a three time finalists and two-time champion.
“He has been even more of an inspiration,” Bauer said. “He had a family situation that got him in some trouble. He bounced back from that, and not just within our program, but within our community and our campus. He has been inspiration to a lot of kids. You can go through tough things in life and you have a choice. You can get upset and be mad at the world or you can turn things around, make things right for yourself and that’s what he has chosen to do.
“He has done a great job. We only get him second semester because he plays football. In this day and age, playing two sports in college is tough. It is a lot more sacrifice than your average student-athlete.”