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Tigers pick up MIAA win at GMC

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

Fort Hays State University junior guard Carson Konrade returned to the lineup for the first time since Dec. 29 after missing time with a thigh injury. Junior center Andrew Victoria came back after he missed the last game with an Achilles issue.

Senior center Rundell Mauge, known much more for his defense and shot blocking, had a strong offensive performance. The rest of the key players -- freshman point guard Craig Nicholson, senior guards Ben Congiusta and Lance Russell and junior forward Dwayne Brunson -- had their usual solid performances.

It led to a 74-55 victory against Southwest Baptist (Mo.) University on Wednesday night at Gross Memorial Coliseum.

"We played well," Tiger coach Mark Johnson said. "We had to get the win. Our guys did what they needed to do."

FHSU led by 14 at halftime and 25 points with 8 minutes, 40 seconds left. FHSU improved to 10-4, 4-2 MIAA, while the Bearcats dropped to 5-10, 3-4 MIAA. Fort Hays bumped to 6-0 when it has its entire team healthy.

"Especially coming off that tough (one-point) loss against Washburn last week, all of us were hurting in the locker room, and we thought that we had to improve," Mauge said. "We definitely came out in the first half, we definitely came out fired up and ready to go, and it paid off in the second half."

Earlier in the week, Johnson thought Victoria would be able to play Wednesday, while Konrade would be a game-time decision. Victoria practiced Monday and Tuesday, and Konrade was able to practice Tuesday. Johnson said Konrade is "still hobbling a little bit," but the guard has more range of motion and the pain has decreased.

"He is a great shooter," Mauge said. "We definitely need him. Especially with Andrew back, he gives me and Dwayne a rest."

Konrade, averaging 9.6 points per contest, finished with five points on 2-of-7 shooting in 22 minutes.

"It's now functional for him," Johnson said. "He has got to get healthier than he is, but I thought it was important in a game where we were able to pull away and still get a win, for him to get out there and play. He is a big part of what we do, and hopefully, by getting into the flow again, that will carry over."

Victoria has battled knee and Achilles problems all season, but finished with another strong offensive game in limited minutes. In nine minutes, he collected four points, all from the foul line, and two rebounds.

Victoria has 30 points in 58 minutes this season.

"He just has a way to score points," Johnson said. "Those four points might not seem a whole lot, but we need that. That's four points in nine minutes we don't get when he is injured."

The 7-foot Mauge averages 4.9 points, 5.5 rebounds and has 23 total blocks, second-most on the squad. Often because of his height, Mauge has played most games in foul trouble.

On Wednesday, he finished with arguably his best game as a Tiger: nine points on 4-of-5 shooting, nine rebounds, three blocks and just one foul. Mauge fought sickness after the game, but he tied his career-high in rebounds and collected his most points in a conference game.

"Whatever he can give us (offensively) is great," Johnson said. "If one night it's three points, it's three points. Tonight, it's nine. He needs to bring his energy on the defensive end. He had three blocks, but he changes a lot more than that and what I liked about him is he was rebounding the basketball. I thought he rebounded the ball well tonight."

Brunson, Russell, Nicholson and Congiusta all finished in double figures. Congiusta led the team with 17 points and delivered another solid defensive performance. Congiusta, long known for his defense, contained Bearcat sophomore guard Preson Guiot. He finished 3 of 10 for eight points.

"Ben did a very nice job on Preston Guiot," Johnson said. "Just kind of there the whole time."

Nicholson ran the fast break effectively and finished with 13 points, nine assists and four steals. Fort Hays will be at Pittsburg State University on Saturday.

"He was able to really just get around their guys and just put pressure on their defense," Johnson said.