Great starts don’t always mean great finishes.
The 2009-2010 Fort Hays State University men’s basketball team started off the season a promising 17-1 heading into the month of February. Their only loss came from Division I Kansas State University, who is currently in the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Division I tournament by just seven points. They were also ranked as high as third in the nation in the Division II polls.
“We got off to such a great start to our season,” coach Mark Johnson said, “And to be quite honest, we were not as good as our 17-1 record was, but anytime you get off to a great start, you build and anticipate and have expectations.”
The expectations were high heading into the second half of MIAA play. The Tigers finished a combined 5-5 through the month of February and early March including a 65-61 loss in the first round of the MIAA tournament to Emporia State University.
When it came time for the NCAA Division II South Central Regional tournament, FHSU entered with a No. 3 seed and their eyes set on an Elite Eight appearance.
Their first opponent in the first round of the tournament, No. 6 seed University of Central Oklahoma, featured the best player FHSU has seen all season, according to Johnson. UCO’s Daunte Williams entered the match-up averaging 20 points, eight rebounds and 5.5 assists a game.
The Tigers held Williams and UCO in check en route to an 80-64 win as they advanced to the second round. The win marked the second NCAA tournament victory in Johnson’s nine years at FHSU, and the first since the 2005-2006 season.
The second round featured a match-up with MIAA rival University of Central Missouri. The two teams had met twice previously in the season, each team coming away with a win.
This time however, UCM came away victorious.
The Tigers trailed 46-34 at halftime before a 10-1 FHSU run cut the lead to single digits for most of the second half. However, after senior forwards Tim Peintner and Ryan Herrman fouled out, things went from bad to worse.
Johnson went out to mid-court to argue a call with 2:50 left in the game. He was hit with two technical fouls and ejected from the game before UCM could ultimately end the Tigers’ season with an 80-73 loss.
“I don’t want to take anything away from Central Missouri. “ Johnson said. “They deserved to win the game. They were the better team.”
This season marked the first back-to-back 20-win season since 2003. Johnson hopes to continue with the success next year.
“Tremendous group,” Johnson said. “We have some good players coming back and we are going to miss those seniors.”