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Tiger men fall to Newman

By KLINT SPILLER

kspiller@dailynews.net

WICHITA -- Fort Hays State University men's basketball coach Mark Johnson might have described Saturday's game best.

FHSU (2-2) lost 80-78 in a turnover-filled loss at Fugate Gymnasium to Newman University.

The Tigers lost the battle against Newman's full-court press, giving up 32 turnovers -- 18 of which came in the first half. The Tigers' previous season high was 20 in last Saturday's loss to Northwestern Oklahoma State University.

"Give them a lot of credit, but we were our own worst enemy," Johnson said. "... It's a miracle we only lost by two."

It was the worst turnover total in at least nine seasons. In that time, the only time FHSU had 30 or more turnovers was Feb. 9, 2008, against Missouri Southern State University when the Tigers had 31.

"That's what Newman does to you," Johnson said. "That's how they want to play. They aren't the biggest team in the world, so they are trying to press and make it up-tempo and not let you get in your stuff and make it an unorganized game."

The Jets (4-0) gave the Tigers fits all game.

FHSU shot 50 percent from the field, but due to the turnovers, the Tigers simply didn't have enough opportunities to score.

"Part of it was them being physical and tough, but most of it was us not being mentally tough with our passes and decisions," said Tiger freshman point guard Craig Nicholson.

When it was a half-court game, FHSU handled Newman. The Jets struggled to stop FHSU's offense, and FHSU's defense contained Newman to just 36.2-percent shooting.

However, the Tigers failed on the defensive glass, surrendering too many second-chance opportunities. Newman finished with 22 offensive rebounds.

"We are big, but I don't know how quick we react," Johnson said. "...We have to become a much better rebounding team than we are right now."

FHSU senior guard Lance Russell and Nicholson -- both Wichita natives -- led the Tigers in scoring.

Russell posted 23 points before fouling out late in the fourth quarter, and Nicholson finished with 20 -- both were career highs as Tigers.

"(Being back in Wichita) gave me a little motivation," Nicholson said, whose previous game high was eight. "I knew my family and a bunch of my friends were coming."

Junior forward Dwayne Brunson recorded a double-double with 17 points and 15 rebounds. He also had a team-high four blocks.

FHSU started off hot, taking an 11-0 lead after Newman ended its first six possessions with turnovers.

The tide turned with just under 13 minutes remaining in the first half, though, as the Jets went on a 26-3 run and claimed a 28-19 lead with 5:55 remaining in the half.

"Like I told our guys, if you are up 18 or down 18, really in this game, it's like being up or down six in a normal game, just with the pace and tempo we were playing at," Johnson said.

FHSU battled back near the end of the first half and into the second half, but Newman's pressure slowed FHSU's comeback attempt.

However, the Tigers did have an opportunity late.

Down 75-69 with 40 second remaining, Nicholson made two free throws and then stole Newman's in-bound pass. Russell then sunk a 3-pointer to narrow Newman's lead to 75-72.

However, the Jets made five of six free throws down the stretch to hold off the Tigers.

The game didn't even finish as closely as the score indicated, as Nicholson made a last-second heave from near mid-court to bring the game within two.

The loss was FHSU's first against Newman in Johnson's tenure. He's now 6-1 against the Jets, and previously, the last time the Tigers fell to Newman was in 1981-82.

After dropping two in a row, Johnson said his team must improve.

"We have the potential to be a good team," Johnson said. "We have some weaknesses. Every team does. We just have to get better.SDRq