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FHSU men erase early deficit, win on road

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. -- The Fort Hays State University men's basketball team trailed by eight after the first four minutes Saturday against Northeastern State University. Coach Mark Johnson mainly plays man-to-man in his 13-year head coaching career, but realized FHSU struggled with that defense and went to zone.

"When we went to zone, that really helped us," sophomore point guard Craig Nicholson said. "They couldn't hit as many shots as they were when we were in man. They were killing us in man, so we had to go to zone."

FHSU quickly went on a 9-2 run and cut the deficit to one point. By halftime, the Tigers held a six-point lead.

Helped by the zone, Fort Hays delivered one of his finest efforts in 79-65 victory at NSU Event Center.

"We figured after five minutes, we were going to have a hard time guarding them man, so I really thought that's the best our zone has been all year," Johnson said. "I thought our guys were active, we covered ground, we matched up pretty well."

FHSU won its sixth straight conference game and moved to 14-3, 6-3 MIAA. Northeastern State dropped to 11-5, 6-3 MIAA. Both teams were receiving votes in the NCAA Division II poll. The Tigers held a plus-seven edge on the glass and a plus-five margin on turnovers. FHSU is 6-0 in conference play when it wins the rebounding battle.

"Doesn't matter who is playing, what level, who wins that rebound battle, most likely is who is going to win the game," Johnson said.

Four of the six victories have come on the road, including a pair of three-day, two-city road swings. It's the first time since FHSU joined the MIAA eight years ago that it's won two three-day, two-city trips in the same year.

"We just like winning," Nicholson said. "We are happier, and we are all energized."

Thursday yielded an incredible 101-97 comeback overtime win against University of Central Oklahoma while Saturday gave the RiverHawks their third straight loss.

"I have to look at everything -- myself and on through the team," NSU coach Larry Gipson said. "Our game preparation, our determination. We are too careless with the basketball. We turned it over way too much. We didn't execute offensively. We insisted on driving it in too deep rather than making the first pass."

Nicholson finished with 27 points, seven assists and seven rebounds. He finished two off his career high for points and one away for rebounds.

"I had a meeting with coach Johnson, and he really harped on me getting more rebounds, so I really took pride in that and tried to help the team get more rebounds," Nicholson said.

Senior Dwayne Brunson, playing on his bothersome knee that's hampered him virtually all season, had a season-high 31 points in Thursday's victory. The forward had no points and six rebounds at halftime Saturday. Senior Andrew Victoria played strong minutes in the first half and finished with four points, three rebounds and five blocks.

"Dwayne really gave us a great second half and overtime," Johnson said. "He really pushed his knee as hard as he has all year. Because of that, there was some carry over to today, so Andrew was really going to have to step in and give us good minutes, and I thought he did."

However, Brunson played well after intermission and finished with 13 points and 12 rebounds.

"He knows how to play hard, and he knows how to get his buckets," Nicholson said.

NSU senior Bryton Hobbs, first in the conference and ninth nationally at 23.4 points per contest, finished with 28 on 8 of 20 shooting.

"When they switched to zone, it stymied us," Gipson said. "We are small and quick, and we moved well and can play off the bounce pretty well, and when you go to a zone, it negates movement and it negates your ability to dribble.

FHSU focused on containing Hobbs and junior Dalen Qualls, who finished with six points.

"I thought our guys were active, we covered ground, we matched up pretty well," Johnson said. "Hobbs, he is a great player. He is going to get his, but try to reduce some of those other guys."

FHSU led 34-28 at the break and by 15 with 14 minutes, 1 second left in the contest. The Tigers worked on keeping Hobbs out of the lane.

"When he gets in the lane, he creates for other people and he knows how to score on his own," Nicholson said. "... Managed to stop him most of the time when he went in there."

In the last 10 minutes, the RiverHawks cut the deficit by setting a ball screen against the zone, but FHSU maintained the lead.

"We got stops one by one and then try and score on the other end," Nicholson said.

Fort Hays 79

Northeastern State 65

FORT HAYS (14-3, 6-3)

Craig Nicholson 6-9 15-16 27, Carson Konrade 7-12 0-0 16, Dwayne Brunson 5-12 3-3 13, Jake Stoppel 4-6 1-2 9, Gabric 1-4 3-4 5, Moikobu 2-3 1-1 5, Victoria 2-5 0-0 1, Tadlock 0-3 0-0 0, Fleming 0-4 0-0 0. Totals -- 27-58 23-26 79.

NORTHEASTERN STATE (11-5, 6-3)

Bryton Hobbs 8-20 9-10 28, Landon DeMasters 2-5 6-8 10, Sheppard 2-6 4-4 8, Evans 4-9 0-0 8, Littleton 1-5 2-4 5, Gilliam 0-0 0-0 0, Qualis 2-5 0-0 6, McDonald 0-2 0-0 0, Harmon 0-2 0-0 0. Totals --  19-54 21-26 65

Fort Hays 34 45 -- 79

NE State 28 37 -- 65

3-point goals - FHSU 2-9 (Konrade 2-6, Tadlock 0-1, Fleming 0-2); NE 6-23 (Hobbs 3-9, Sheppard 0-3, Evans 0-1, Littleton 1-4, Qualis 2-4, Harmon 0-2). Assists -- FHSU 12 (Nicholson 7); NE 14 (Hobbs 8). Steals --  FHSU 10 (Nicholson 4); NE 4 (Evans 2). Blocks -- FHSU 7 (Victoria 5); NE 1 (Hobbs). Total fouls -- FHSU 21, NE 17. Fouled out -- none. Technical fouls --  none.

Rebounds --  FHSU 39 (Brunson 12) NE 32 Sheppard 8). Turnovers -- FHSU 10, NE 15. A -- 818.