HAYS — For just the second time in school history the Emporia State men have opened MIAA play with two road wins as they defeated Fort Hays State 68-66 on Saturday afternoon in Hays, Kan.
“It says a lot especially in this league to go on the road and get two wins to start the season,” said Emporia State head coach Craig Doty. “We’re in a rebuild mode but we’re no longer in the infancy of it. As long as we stay healthy we have the capability to do these things.”
Unlike Thursday’s win at Neb.-Kearney which saw the Hornets jump out to a big lead and never look back, this game saw 12 ties and 14 lead changes with neither team taking more than a four point lead. The teams were tied at 6-6 when the first media timeout hit with 14:43 left in the half. Marquis McCray would score the next four points for the Hornets to give them a 10-7 lead with 13:36 remaining. The Tigers then went on a 7-0 run to go up 14-10 before Mason Thiessen broke the run at the 9:50 mark.
Ben Smith dunked off a pass from Dallas Bailey to ignite a 7-0 run for the Hornets that was capped by a Jumah’Ri Turner pull up jumper with 6:40 left to give ESU a 19-16 lead. Austin Downing drove the lane with 3:14 left to put the Hornets up 27-23 before Fort Hays State scored the next five points to retake the lead. Haggan Higendorf hit a mid-range jumper to give the Tigers a 30-29 lead with 31 seconds left. Turner then beat the buzzer with a three-pointer from the top of the key to send the Hornets to the locker room with a 32-30 lead. That three snapped a string of 19 consecutive misses from beyond the arc for Emporia State.
The Hornets maintained a lead of between 1-4 points through the first six minutes of the second half before Bjarni Jonsson scored on a put back for the Tigers to tie the game at 41 with 13:31 left. Mason Thiessen hit a three-pointer and was fouled with 12:03 and his completed four-point play gave Emporia State a 47-43 lead with 12:03 remaining. Fort Hays State responded with a 6-0 run and Jared Vitztum’s two free throws at the 9:16 mark gave the Tigers a 49-47 lead. Vitztum hit two more free throws with 5:03 left to push the Tiger lead to 58-54 before Downing drove the lane for another layup to send the Hornets into the final media timeout down by two.
Downing hit two free throws with 2:32 left to knot the score at 60-60. With 1:39 left Downing stripped the ball from Vitztum and fed Brenden Van Dyke for a breakaway dunk that gave the Hornets a 62-60 lead.
“That strip and steal of Vitztum late in the game and the pass advance to Van Dyke for the dunk, that’s a game changing play right there,” said Doty.
The Tigers’ Kaleb Hammeke hit a pull up jumper with 1:05 left to beat the shot clock and tie the game at 62. Van Dyke was fouled with 43.3 seconds left and hit the first of two free throws to give ESU a one point lead. He missed the second but Downing secured the rebound to keep possession with the Hornets. Dallas Bailey drilled two free throws with 23.2 seconds left to put the Hornets up 65-62.
Hammeke scored quickly for the Tigers to make it 65-62 with 15.7 left. Downing then drew a foul with 11.5 seconds remaining and hit both ends of the one and one to put Emporia State up 67-64. With a three-point lead the Hornets fouled with 5.9 left and Alvin Thompson hit both free throw to make it a one point game. Turner, who was third in the nation in free throw percentage last season, was fouled with 3.5 seconds left and hit one of two to give the Hornets a 68-66 lead. The Tigers got the ball inbounds to Hammeke but Bailey was able to get in front of him and force him to change direction before taking a last second shot from just past half court that was wide right and Emporia State pulled out the two point victory.
“We’re excited that we’ve started out 2-0 but I think we have a lot of guys in that locker room who are hungry and I believe that as long as we continue to do what we’re doing – sharing the ball, locking in on the offensive and defensive end — who knows where it could take us,” said Downing. “We’re just trying to take it one day at a time especially with all of this COVID going on, and we’ll just see where it takes us.”
Downing led Emporia State with 19 points followed closely by Turner with 18 and they were joined in double figures by Thiessen with 11 points. Ten of the 11 Hornets that played scored. Bailey led Emporia State with seven rebounds.
“At the end of the day you saw a lot of seniors on the floor, you saw zero play last year, we didn’t have one senior touch the floor last season. (Saturday) you saw I believe six seniors touch the floor for us,” said Doty. “That’s the difference in winning these type of games and losing.”
The Hornets are scheduled to wrap up their season opening three game road swing on Saturday, November 28 when they travel to Northeastern State. Tip-off from the NSU Events Center in Tahlequah, Okla. is set for 3:30 p.m.