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Tigers ready for Ichabods

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

Last Saturday, Fort Hays State University senior point guard Ben Congiusta delivered a lasting memory in a comeback against Emporia State University. Congiusta forced overtime with a 3-pointer with 2.7 seconds left and helped FHSU earn a 76-70 victory. The Tigers were down 10 with two and a half minutes left.

However, Congiusta's trey is just one of many 3-pointers in an impressive start for the Tigers' most seasoned player. Congiusta, long known for his defense, has enjoyed a strong all-around winter.

In addition to his strong play in shutting down opponents, Congiusta is averaging 13.5 points per game and leads the Tigers with 32.7 minutes per contest, treys (33), 3-point attempts (71) and 3-point field goal percentage (46.5 percent, min. 20 attempts).

"I will pass it to him anytime," freshman point guard Craig Nicholson said.

In the latest release of conference statistics, Congiusta stands fourth in the MIAA in 3-point field goal percentage and second in treys made per game.

"I am not really thinking about it too much," Congiusta said. "Every game is a new game. I didn't feel like I shot well behind the 3-point line (against Northeastern State last Thursday). I didn't try to carry that into (Emporia). Every game, new game, every shot is a new shot. I am shooting it the best that I can and hoping that it goes in."

On Thursday, Fort Hays (9-3, 3-1 MIAA) will play host to rival Washburn University (8-2, 1-1 MIAA). Start time is 7:30 p.m. at Gross Memorial Coliseum. The Ichabods are ranked No. 8 in NCAA Division II and have Will McNeil, the conference's leading scorer at 21.9 points per contest.

"We feel like they are going to be one of the upper echelon teams," Tiger coach Mark Johnson said. "It just takes on a little more significance because of that. The history of Fort Hays-Washburn, might be the biggest rival over time that Fort Hays has had."

Congiusta, in his fourth year in Hays after he transferred from NCAA Division I Tennessee-Martin, was a reserve in '09-10. He averaged 8.4 minutes, 3.3 points and finished 21 of 50 (42 percent) from beyond the arc.

The next year, Congiusta started all 33 contests on a strong offensive team that averaged 81.3 points per game and had All-American point guard Dominique Jones. Congiusta collected 6.1 points a game and finished 54 of 145 (37.2 percent) from long range.

"It's hard to be a good shooter when you only shoot it three times a game," Johnson said. "With that group, we had a lot of different options to go score. There was a lot of guys. So he just there to extend the floor and play defense. Now, his mindset is completely different. He is aggressive, he is looking for shots. When you do that, you are more confident, you shoot it better, you play better."

He redshirted last season because of a shoulder injury. This year, Congiusta, junior forward Dwayne Brunson, senior guard Lance Russell and freshman point guard Craig Nicholson all average double figures.

Russell, in his third year with the Tigers, and Congiusta are the lone players who saw significant minutes with FHSU before this year.

Johnson said Congiusta and Russell (13.6 points per game) have both "really come a long way."

"Really proud of both of those guys," Johnson said. "You look at Lance, Lance has been here three years. Lance probably, I want to say was slightly soft on the floor. I think he has really become a hard playing guy, and an effort guy. He has come miles and miles from a toughness standpoint, effort standpoint and intensity standpoint."

"I think both of those guys are reaping the awards from that," he added. "That's those guys. It wasn't nothing we did."