HAYS, Kan. – Fort Hays State maintained its second-place standing in the MIAA with a big victory over Central Oklahoma on Saturday afternoon 0at Gross Memorial Coliseum. The No. 23 ranked Tigers led by seven at halftime and fought off the Bronchos late for a 66-62 win. FHSU improved to 18-5 overall, 13-4 in the MIAA, while UCO moved to 17-8 overall, 9-8 in the MIAA.
The Bronchos scored the first four points of the game, only to see the Tigers score seven straight to take a three point lead four minutes into the contest. In a defensive physical battle early, FHSU was the first to reach double digits with an 11-6 lead eight and a half minutes into the game. However, UCO countered with an 8-0 run to take the lead back at 14-11.
The lead toggled back and forth another time before FHSU took the lead for good in the opening half with a 9-0 run to lead by eight. A Conner Landell stick back on offense gave the Tigers their largest lead of the half (nine points) at the 1:49 mark, but the margin was seven at halftime with the Tigers up 28-21. Landell was a big spark for the Tigers on offense in the first half, coming off the bench for seven points. Jahiem Holden was also big off the bench in the first half for FHSU with a team-leading 11 points.
The Tigers sputtered offensively to open the second half, seeing UCO go on a 6-0 run after the break to cut the lead down to one. However, Elijah Nnanabu sparked a 7-0 burst for the Tigers with a layup and then a 3-point field goal. Bjarni Jonsson capped the run with a jumper.
UCO made another burst at the Tigers, this time going on an 11-2 run to get the lead back at 38-37 with 11:21 to play. But the Tigers answered with five-straight points as Kyle Grill made a layup to get the lead back and Jonsson buried a three.
Up four with nine minutes to play, UCO made another charge to take a one-point lead again, all on scoring from Jaden Wells. He cut the lead in half with a three and then was fouled on another three and converted a four-point play. UCO led 47-46 with 7:14 to play, but that would be their last time in front.
Traejon Davis put the Tigers in front for good with a cut to the basket off a pass from Nnanabu. Davis then buried a big-time three to get the lead to five. Nnanabu backed that with a fast-break dunk off a steal to put the Tigers up seven. UCO nearly found a way to get the game even again, but off a Wells 3-point miss, R.J, Crawford nailed another big three for the Tigers at the 1:59 mark to get the lead out to six. Then at the 1:15 mark, Davis struck again with another big-time three from the left corner to put the Tigers up eight.
UCO continued to hit tough shots down the stretch to get the Tiger lead back to three with three seconds to play, but Crawford sealed the win for FHSU by hitting a free-throw.
After Holden (11) and Landell (7) got all of their points in the first half, Davis (8) and Jonsson (7) scored all of their points in the second half. It helped counteract Kaleb Hammeke being held scoreless until a pair of free throws late. Hammeke was held without a field goal for the first time since the 2021-22 season in a home contest against Central Missouri. Grill had five of his seven points and Crawford had four of his six points in the second half. Nnanabu remained in his run of scoring in double figures for the Tigers, finishing with a team-high 18 points.
Wells was a thorn in the side of the Tigers in the second half, scoring 21 of his 26 points after halftime. Jayln Turner (11) and Danquez Dawsey (10) each reached double figures in scoring as well for the Bronchos.
The Tigers embark on their final road trip of the regular season next week when they head to Lincoln and Central Missouri, Thursday and Saturday. After that, the Tigers will be at home for their final three regular season contests.