Senior guard Reggie Tharp is back in the lineup today when No. 18 Missouri Southern visits Fort Hays State to tip off the 2020 portion of its schedule.
Tharp, the Lions' 6-foot point guard the past two seasons, suffered an ankle injury during the first day back from Christmas break and sat out Tuesday night's 71-58 victory over John Brown University. He sat out Wednesday's practice but practiced both Thursday and Friday.
He averages 9.7 points and a team-high 3.6 assists, and he's second in the MIAA in assist-to-turnover ratio (40 assists to 12 turnovers overall, 14 to 2 in two league games).
"We're just different without Reggie in the lineup," MSSU coach Jeff Boschee said. "We didn't play at the pace we had been playing (against John Brown), especially with the way Reggie has been playing overall. We didn't play the way we usually play in transition and able to break down defenses, getting inside as well as we do with him in the lineup."
The Lions (9-2, 2-0 MIAA) continue to lead the conference in scoring (89.5 points) as well as rebound margin (8.7) and assists (17.0).
Junior center Cam Martin is second in the league's scoring race at 22.5 points, and senior guard Kinzer Lambert and Elyjah Clark contribute 12.6 and 11.3 points, respectively.
Fort Hays State (6-4, 0-2) averages 77.8 points, and half of its losses are by three points in each game. Devin Davis, 6-3 senior guard, averages 12.2 points, and three more starters average from 10.6 to 12.0 points.
"I have great respect for Mark (Johnson) and the way he coaches," Boschee said. "Nyjee Wright is playing a little bit more of an important role for them than he has in the past at the point guard spot. Devin Davis, the leading scorer as a wing player, is very aggressive, attacking and getting downhill. They are going to patient. They are going to run their stuff in the halfcourt. They are always solid on the defensive end."
Losses at Nebraska-Kearney 74-60 and Emporia State 69-66 in early December gave the Tigers their first 0-2 start in league play since the 2015-16 season. They haven't been 0-3 in the league since the 2013-14 campaign, and ironically, the first MIAA win that season was 76-67 at Missouri Southern on Jan. 4 — six years ago to the day.
The Lions have lost five straight games at Hays — the past four by an average of 5.8 points — since an 82-71 victory on Jan. 7, 2012.
"We've had some close games, some heartbreakers," Boschee said. "We just haven't been able to pull it out. Last year, we had a pretty good-sized lead in the first half (12 points with five minutes left in the half), then they cut it to four at halftime and kind of took over the second half."
"We have to make sure we play at our pace and play the way we're used to playing. We need to get stops on the defensive end and not let them get comfortable. It's always a tough place to play, and they are coming off a couple wins versus some NAIA teams, so they will have a little bit of confidence. It's about time we get a win out there."
Mo. Southern (9-2. 2-0 MIAA)
C Cam Martin, 6-9 jr. 22.5
G Reggie Tharp, 6-0 sr. 9.7
G Braelon Walker, 6-0 sr. 8.3
G Kinzer Lambert, 6-4 sr. 12.6
G Elyjah Clark, 6-3 sr. 11.3
Fort Hays St. (6-4, 0-2)
F Jared Vitztum, 6-7 jr. 11.0
F Jake Hutchings, 6-7 sr. 12.0
G Nyjee Wright, 5-10 so. 10.6
G Aaron Nicholson, 5-9 sr. 8.6
G Devin Davis, 6-3 sr. 12.2
Tipoff: 4 p.m.
Site: Gross Memorial Coliseum, Hays, Kan.
Last game: MSSU 71, John Brown 58; FHSU 96, Avila 55.
Coaches: Jeff Boschee, sixth year at MSSU (110-55). Mark Johnson, 19th year at FHSU (365-176).
Series: FHSU leads 33-21 after each team won at home last season — the Lions 78-66 and the Tigers 89-84.
Radio: WMBH (1560 AM, 101.3 FM), KXMS (88.7 FM), 3:45 p.m.