Tigers advance to semis at MIAA
Published on -3/8/2013, 10:13 AM
By CONOR NICHOLL
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Missouri Southern State University men's basketball coach Robert Corn spent the first few moments of his news conference reviewing the many strengths of the Fort Hays State University men's basketball team. Corn mentioned the Tigers' strong outside shooting, play of freshman point guard Craig Nicholson and solid inside game with junior forward Dwayne Brunson and senior center Rundell Mauge.
"They have no weaknesses," Corn said.
The Tigers showcased their all-around game in a 79-60 quarterfinal victory against the Lions at Municipal Auditorium in the first round of the MIAA postseason conference tournament Thursday. The top-seeded Tigers improved to 20-7, while ninth-seeded Missouri Southern dropped to 13-15. The victory moved FHSU into Saturday's semifinals against fifth-seeded Northwest Missouri State University. Game time is noon.
Fort Hays, unranked in the latest Central Region rankings released Wednesday, likely needs to win the tournament this weekend and receive the conference's automatic bid. The Tigers now have won at least 20 games seven times in the 12-year Mark Johnson era, tying Bill Morse for the school record.
"We knew this could be our last game," senior guard Ben Congiusta said.
The extra day off could allow the Tigers to rest some. Congiusta has battled an ankle injury for several weeks.
Junior forward Andrew Victoria hurt his knee early in the contest. Victoria has been bothered by the knee issue virtually all year. Johnson was uncertain if Victoria tore anything, but said a rod could have hit the forward's bone.
"Pretty painful," Johnson said.
As well, Nicholson is fighting a groin injury and Johnson said the second team all-MIAA and league's freshman of the year probably "was a gear down" Thursday. Mauge nursed an ankle injury, too.
FHSU, which had struggled early under Johnson in Kansas City, improved to 5-1 in its last six games at Municipal Auditorium, including three victories against Southern. Johnson said, earlier in his tenure, many of the Tiger squads relied often on the jump shot.
"We didn't hit shots," Johnson said.
The past three years, including Thursday, FHSU has shot the ball better. Fort Hays shot 44 percent and hit eight treys. Johnson named three keys to the game: Southern junior Marquis Addison, the team's best player, getting in foul trouble, Fort Hays offensive rebounding and early shooting from Congiusta.
Addison had 13 points in 18 minutes in the first half, but no points in 11 second half minutes. He still led the Lions, a team with no seniors, in scoring.
"It stinks," he said.
Fort Hays collected 16 offensive rebounds, including a strong night from the 7-foot Mauge. He had six points, four blocks and three rebounds, two offensive. Mauge also changed many shots down low and helped hold Southern to 41 percent shooting.
Early on, both teams traded 3-pointers often. Congiusta hit his first five shots, including four treys. He finished with 17 points, while Nicholson led the team with 19 points and seven assists. Nicholson, in his first experience in Kansas City, wore a big smile after the game.
"I like to win," he said.
Junior Carson Konrade had 15 points, while senior Lance Russell contributed 12 points and five rebounds, all in the second half. Russell went 0 of 6 in the first half, but Johnson was more disappointed that the senior also didn't grab a rebound. Fort Hays led 36-31 at halftime. Then, Russell scored twice off steals and fast break layups early in the second half. Southern closed to 55-51 with 10:15 left, but Mauge and Russell tallied back-to-back scores to push the margin back to eight.
"That's what seniors do," Johnson said.