Men’s basketball embarrassed in loss to Division II opponent Fort Hays State

Fort Hays State sophomore forward Bjarni Jonsson drives to the basket, knocking down freshman guard Nijel Pack in the Wildcat's 81-68 loss to the Tigers on Tuesday night. (Photo Courtesy of Scott Weaver | K-State Athletics)

The chance of NCAA DII opponent Fort Hays State (0-3) strolling into Bramlage Coliseum and dominating on all phases of the game against the men’s basketball team (1-4) was unlikely to many tuning into Tuesday night’s matchup — but that’s exactly what happened. The Tigers managed to spark some magic and upset the Wildcats 81-68 without their head coach Mark Johnson and associate head coach Jeremy Brown, who were both out because of COVID-19 protocols.

“This was very, very disappointing and very sad for our program.” Kansas State head coach Bruce Weber said.

The matchup was a last-minute schedule adjustment, which will likely be one to forget. After the Wildcat’s showdown with Butler was canceled on Saturday and their game against Milwaukee rescheduled to Friday, K-State managed to squeeze in Fort Hays on Tuesday.

To make matters even worse for K-State, the game will count against the Wildcat’s record while it will not count for Fort Hays State as it is technically an exhibition game for the Tigers.

It was the first time since 2009 that these in-state foes squared off in a regular-season matchup and the first time that the Wildcats lost to the Tigers since 1938. Fort Hays is often a candidate to be an exhibition opponent but hadn’t faced the Wildcats since 2017.

The Tigers whipped up some 1938 magic and made a strong push for their win over the Wildcats after a dominating shooting performance, putting the most points on K-State all season. Fort Hays State had six players finish with double digits and shot 55 percent from the floor. Senior forward Jared Vitztum led the Tigers with 16 points and 10 rebounds.

“They beat us in every way tonight,” Weber said. “Straight-line drives, threes, penetration and kick, all the different things.”

K-State was down 14-6 early in the first half after an 8-0 run by the Tigers, who kept the momentum rolling going into the locker room leading the Wildcats 35-29. It was the lowest first-half this season for K-State.

“We didn’t guard them on the first play to the last play,” senior guard Mike McGuirl said. “We didn’t guard them how we should’ve. That’s on us.”

Fort Hays State finished the half shooting 52 percent from the floor, the highest allowed by the Wildcats in the first half this year. K-State struggled from the floor, shooting 36 percent. The free-throw line was the saving grace for K-State. The Wildcats had 12 trips to the line, making nine.

The Tigers continued to put pressure on the Wildcats out of the gate of the second half with a 10-6 run in the opening four minutes of the half to take a 48-35 lead. Fort Hays State built a 21-point lead with seven minutes remaining in the game, and it was too great for the Wildcats to overcome.

Led by McGuirl, who scored 22 points, the Wildcats finished the game shooting 44 percent from the floor, including 19 percent from three. K-State shot 67 percent from the line and generated 21 points off 20 Fort Hays State turnovers.

K-State simply struggled from the floor all night long on both sides of the ball. The Wildcats were out-rebounded 34-26, outscored in the paint and outshot. The defensive side was the biggest eye-opener out of the loss.

“They kept it pretty simple. They ran the same stuff,” McGuirl said. “The same stuff that was beating us, and we couldn’t stop it.”

K-State was forced to go with a smaller lineup and was able to find success, but the Tigers went through stretches where the team seemed unstoppable on defense. The good news for the Wildcats is that there is nowhere to go but up after this devastating loss.

K-State will host Milwaukee on Friday night, which will conclude a six-game homestand for the Wildcats. The contest is scheduled for a 7 p.m. tip-off on Big 12 Now on ESPN+. It’s K-State’s last game before facing its first Big 12 opponent in Iowa State.