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Tiger freshman honored by MIAA

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

Fort Hays State University men's basketball coach Mark Johnson had "pretty high expectations" for freshman point guard Craig Nicholson.

Nicholson, from Wichita, was expected to start from his first collegiate game and play a significant role, a rarity for freshmen under Johnson.

"We knew he was going to be pretty good, and we pretty much went with the route that we weren't going to recruit anybody at his position and just give it to him," Johnson said at his weekly news conference Monday afternoon. "We didn't want to bring in an older kid, a junior college transfer, a Division I transfer, at that same position where they are fighting for minutes. We wanted Craig to just be able to get out there and go from the start. Obviously, if you are thinking that way, you are thinking that he is going to be pretty good."

Nicholson has improved significantly in the early season and earned MIAA Player of the Week honors Monday afternoon. Fort Hays (5-2, 2-0 MIAA) collected two key conference victories last week, at home against University of Central Missouri and on the road at Missouri Western State University.

"I think we are playing much better now," Johnson said.

He averaged 19.5 points and 8.5 assists in the contests. Versus UCM last Wednesday, Nicholson tallied 22 points and a team-high seven assists. On Saturday, Nicholson sat for eight minutes in the second half because of foul trouble, but finished with 17 points and 10 assists because of foul trouble. He did have five turnovers in both contests.

The Tigers' only true ballhandler, Nicholson has averaged 12.4 points per contest with a 45/27 assist/turnover ratio this year. Fort Hays, in the middle of finals week, is off until Saturday when it travels to Oklahoma Panhandle State University.

"Craig is the only guy that you would say is a point guard ballhandler," Johnson said. "Really, the only area that he needs to shore up (is turnovers). .... If he can knock that down to two or three turnovers and keep playing the way he is playing, he has gotten off to a fantastic start."

Health/injury update

Junior Nick Capiti suffered a badly sprained ankle the day before last Wednesday's contest against UCM. He didn't play against UCM, and then played just three minutes versus Missouri Western.

"He is still coming back," Johnson said.

Junior forward Andrew Victoria continues to come back from his knee injury suffered in early season. He played four minutes last Wednesday and three minutes Saturday. Victoria still has rarely practiced, but is expected to gain plenty of practice reps this week.

"We have got to get Andrew in the game more," Johnson said. "I think this week will hopefully allow him to get to start playing more."

Senior guard Lance Russell and junior Dwayne Brunson, ill last week, are recovering well. Both played well in the Missouri Western victory, despite feeling ill.

Free throws a question

The Tiger women are 8-0, 2-0 MIAA and ranked No. 17 in NCAA Division II. Fort Hays has many strengths, but has struggled from the foul line at times. For the season, FHSU has shot 68.1 percent from the line. The last two games, Fort Hays has shot 52.6 and 52.2 percent from the free throw line. FHSU has been under 60 percent four times his season.

"It seems to be catching," coach Tony Hobson said. "It's worse than the flu. If we start out and if we have two or three people that step up and hit them and it seems like everybody does."

Senior Melissa Nelson has shot just 52.2 percent from the line. No one with more than seven attempts have shot higher than 80 percent.

"That's more of a concern than anything else right now," Hobson said. "We have had games where we go 22 of 25. ...There is no reason why Mel shouldn't be a good free throw shooter. She has been a good free throw shooter her whole career."