By CHAD COURRIER
Special to The Hays Daily News
MANKATO, Minn. -- Fort Hays State coach Mark Johnson was concerned about Missouri Southern State's length and athletic ability in the lane, and those worries were warranted.
When the Lions started to dominate the paint Saturday, Fort Hays State was in trouble.
"That's a tough game for us," Johnson said. "We got off to a good start, but in the end, their size and athleticism was hard for us to handle."
Missouri Southern State pulled away in the second half, downing Fort Hays State 80-69 in the quarterfinal of the NCAA II Central Region men's basketball tournament Saturday at Minnesota State's Bresnan Arena. The Lions had a 40-22 rebounding advantage, outscored the Tigers 42-24 in the lane and blocked eight shots.
"They knew if we could dominate the paint, they had no chance," Tigers' junior forward Dwayne Brunson said. "We made some jump shots, but not enough to get the win."
The first half was a series of runs, with Missouri Southern State making the last one. Fort Hays State went up 6-0 early, but the Lions responded with nine straight.
Fort Hays State made a 14-8 run, with Brunson scoring eight points, but the Lions kept pounding the lane, using an 18-6 burst to go up 35-27 with 1:30 left in the half.
Craig Nicholson hit a 3-pointer in the final seconds, but Missouri Southern State's Austin Wright had enough time to answer from the corner, pushing the Lions into halftime with a 40-32 lead. The Tigers shot 42.9 percent in the half, but Missouri Southern State was plus-11 in rebounding, leading to a 24-8 advantage in points in the paint, with five blocked shots.
"I thought we made them a jump-shooting team, and that changed the game for us," Lions' senior Jordan Talbert said.
Needing to start quick the second half, the Tigers couldn't. Marquis Addison, Missouri Southern State's top scorer, got hot, scoring 11 points as the Lions pushed the lead to 60-42. Despite some late scoring from Nicholson, who nine points in the second half, the Tigers couldn't close the gap.
"We were able to put the ball in the basket a little bit there, but we didn't get enough stops," Johnson said.
Addison finished with 26 points and nine rebounds, and Slim Magee had six points, 12 rebounds and four blocked shots. Talbert and Lane Barlow each scored 11 as the Lions shot 51.7 percent.
Brunson had 21 points, eight rebounds and three steals, and Nicholson had 15 points and nine assists. The Tigers shot 53.6 percent in the second half but couldn't close the deficit.
Missouri Southern State (25-5) advances to the region semifinal at 5 p.m. Sunday. Fort Hays State ends the season at 22-8.
"We squeezed a lot out of this season," Johnson said.