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SPOTLIGHT
FHSU men pick up victory

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FHSU men pick up victory

Published on -2/28/2013, 10:24 AM

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By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

Occasionally, Fort Hays State University men's basketball coach Mark Johnson will build up a contest as being the year's biggest game to that point. However, on a daily basis, Johnson wants to take a "business-like approach" to practice, preparation and the schedule. This winter, it's helped the Tigers play with nearly metronomic consistency, and avoid any bad losses.

On Wednesday, FHSU collected another win against a bottom-tier MIAA team with a 73-57 victory against Missouri Western State University at Gross Memorial Coliseum.

The Tigers never trailed and led comfortably throughout the contest. Fort Hays, ninth in the newest Central Rankings released Wednesday, improved to 18-7, 12-5 MIAA. Missouri Western dropped to 9-16, 5-12 MIAA.

"I think when you have those ups and downs, that's when you try to put too much meaning into one game and that it's more important than the next," Johnson said. "We do that every now and again, but basically, it's just come to work and you've got to take care of what you do with the right effort and make the proper decisions and, you do that, most likely you are going to have a great chance to win the game."

The regular season concludes Friday with a home game against last place Lincoln (Mo.) University. FHSU has clinched a top-four finish and first-round bye in next week's postseason conference tournament in Kansas City, Mo.

With a win Friday and some other combinations occurring, Fort Hays still can win the league title outright or tie for the crown. The Tiger men have not won a MIAA regular season title.

"There could be anywhere from a two-way tie to a three-way tie, you are still conference champions," Johnson said. "That would be nice to have. It's Senior Night. You would like to have those guys go off on a quality note."

In past seasons, even on NCAA tournament teams, FHSU has had some slipups at home and/or against lower-tier squads. Last year, Fort Hays lost three home games, all in league. Two years ago, the Tigers made the NCAA tournament, but lost at home to Northwest Missouri State University, then a lower-tier team.

This winter, Fort Hays is 12-2 at home, including 7-1 in MIAA games at GMC. Overall, the Tigers have lost just once since Jan. 24.

"We really, in conference play, have had a nice home season," Johnson said.

FHSU is 11-1 against the bottom 10 teams in the 15-team league.

"We just play hard," senior Lance Russell said. "We play together. Everyone pretty much knows their part on the team, what they should do, what they can do. Just go with the flow."

On Wednesday, Fort Hays won its fourth straight at home against the Griffons, all by double figures. The Tigers led 11-3 early and 29-13 with 7 minutes, 30 seconds left in the first half. FHSU, the MIAA's best shooting team, shot 50 percent in each half.

"Everyone is getting a better feel for the game, and we are setting people up for good shots, so we are taking good shots," Russell said.

Junior Dwayne Brunson paced the Tigers with 20 points and six rebounds, while Russell added 11 points, nine rebounds and four assists.

Sophomore Reed Mells paced Missouri Western with 15 points and senior Dylan Frantz, a Phillipsburg graduate, had nine points.

"I don't know if it was their zone or what, I just feel like from either side that there wasn't a lot of energy," Johnson said. "It just felt kind of a lethargic, sluggish game throughout. Part of it, that happens sometimes when you face a zone, you get a little passive and you become unaggressive with you do that on the offensive end. It can kind of transfer over on down to the defensive end."

Once Fort Hays took the 16-point lead, it didn't score until 1:49 remained in the first half on a dunk from senior Rundell Mauge.

"Every game, our goal is to not let the team score over 65," Russell said. "Offense wins games and defense wins championships and that's what we try to do."

However, the Griffons scored just four points in that stretch. FHSU led 34-23 at the break and led Missouri Western never threatened after the break.

"Sometimes, when they do that zone, it makes us think, and we struggle to play angles and stuff," Johnson said. "That's what's frustrating with this team a lot of times, just the common basketball play, we can't make that, and that can be frustrating, but we will keep plugging along and we can really shoot the ball. In the second half, our shooters got loose."

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