By TOMMY REZAC
St. Joseph Post
The Missouri Western men's basketball team found themselves down 8-2 in the first 2.5 minutes of Tuesday's game against Fort Hays State, but quickly, the Griffons turned the tide.
In fact, Missouri Western flat out locked down Fort Hays State for most of the first half. The Griffons held the Tigers to just five points through the final 16:08 of the first half to go up 12 at the break, and Missouri Western held on late for a 62-55 win on Tuesday at the MWSU Fieldhouse.
The game was postponed from Dec. 10 due to a COVID-19 shutdown within the Missouri Western program last month.
The Griffons (8-6, 4-4 MIAA) led by as many as 17 before Hays got to within 56-50 with 36 seconds left. Hays fought to the end, but Missouri Western was a solid 8-of-9 at the free throw line in the second half to close it out.
The Griffons were also an efficient 9-of-16 from three through the whole 40 minutes, helping them to snap a three-game losing skid.
"I'm just proud of our team," Missouri Western coach Will Martin said after on KFEQ Radio. "Just staying connected and staying committed. It's hard when you go on losing streaks like that. It's really hard. We have to get better. We have to take care of the ball, which we didn't do a phenomenal job of, especially in the second half.
But, the commitment these guys have, the intensity and intentionality they bring every single day, has been consistent."
Missouri Western was without their all-MIAA starting forward and team captain Will Eames Tuesday, who was sidelined with a hand injury sustained in the second of Saturday's game at Northwest Missouri State.
As a result, junior forward JaRon Thames got his first start of the season and rose to the occasion, leading the Griffons with 15 points and a career-high 11 rebounds.
It was Thames' third career double-double in a season where he was shelved for much of November and December with a hand injury.
"I feel like we played hard as a team," Thames said. "We knew it was going to be a 'grind it out' defensive game. We knew we had to come in, locked in, laser focused and get the job done. We just knew we had to come and get a win today."
Sophomore Julius Dixon had 13 points on 3-for-3 shooting from downtown, while junior Reese Glover had 11 points on 3-of-5 shooting from long range.
Glover is now up to 233 made three-pointers at Missouri Western in his fourth year in the program. That ties the school record set by Cole Clearman for most threes made in a Griffon career, and Glover still has half of this season ahead of him.
"Really proud of Reese and I hope he breaks that record at Newman," Martin said of Glover's achievement.
Sophomore Taye Fields turned in a gritty effort Tuesday, scoring five points to go with seven assists, seven rebounds and two steals.
Sophomore Kaleb Hammeke led Fort Hays State with a game-high 16 points. Sophomore Elijah Nnanabu scored 15. Hays was held to 34.5 percent shooting from the field, and just 4-of-23 from three.
Western also outrebounded Hays 37-30, and shot 44.4 percent from the field.
The win is Missouri Western's first of 2023 and it was a nice bounce back after a one-point loss to Rogers State, a two-point loss to Northeastern State and then a 23-point loss at Northwest Missouri State.
"I'm proud of our guys," Martin reiterated. "We still have to get a lot better. We have to take care of the basketball, but the way we guarded in the first half and holding them to 15 points. That gives me a lot of optimism. That shows me we have kids who are gritty."
Both the Missouri Western men's and women's basketball teams go on the road Thursday to face Newman. The games start at 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. Both games are on KFEQ Radio (680, 95.3, 680kfeq.com).
You can follow Tommy on Twitter @TommyKFEQ and St. Joseph Post @StJosephPost.