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Tigers having trouble with turnovers

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

Fort Hays State University men's basketball coach Mark Johnson has a simple explanation for why his inexperienced Tiger squad is 2-2 with a pair of non-conference losses to Northwestern Oklahoma State University and Newman University. The Tigers averaged 26 turnovers in the pair of losses and lost each game by two points.

"That's the difference in the game," Johnson said at his weekly news conference Monday. "There's a lot of areas that we can do better, but you can't turn the ball over at the rate that we are turning it over and win games."

On Wednesday, the Tigers face Central Christian in a non-conference contest at Gross Memorial Coliseum. Start time is 7 p.m. Johnson said the turnover problem "has to be" fixed if the team is to win games. In addition to the miscues, Johnson would like to see production from the bench -- "we are just getting nothing right now," he said -- and keeping senior forward Rundell Mauge and junior forward Dwayne Brunson out of foul trouble. Against Newman, Fort Hays had to play small often because of foul trouble.

"A lot of times if you have that many turnovers, you would like to think it's just guys trying to do too much, and they are trying to make too many great plays," Johnson said. "I don't know if that is really the answer. That's a little more correctable.

"What our problem is we don't handle the ball very well, we are not passing the ball very well, we are not being very strong with the basketball," he added. "Obviously that is a concern and where we have to get better."

Fort Hays returned just two players who had significant experience in the program. Freshman Craig Nicholson, the starting point guard, had 20 points in the two-point defeat to Newman, but committed six turnovers. However, Johnson said the team doesn't really have another option other than Nicholson. Johnson believes the freshman is "only going to get better and better." Senior Lance Russell, one of the few returners, also had six turnovers.

"We've got to shore those things up," Johnson said. "We've got to have guys wanting the ball more. We've got to have guys more confident when they have the ball than they are right now. Our other guys can help our guards by executing better. We are still having some breakdowns just trying to get into our offense whether it be missing a position or missing a screen that we have to hit to help our guards enter the ball."

Johnson said the team has had multiple problems, including getting the ball entered, handling the press, being strong with the ball and making quality decisions. Entering the season, Johnson knew the team was probably going to be limited in the number of ballhandlers the team had.

"We are not a very good passing team now," Johnson said. "Passing a lot of times is just intelligence and playing angles and hitting guys in certain areas. Anytime you are playing against a press or anything, you really have about a half a second for a guy to open. They are not open for a long time at our level. You have to be able to hit them on time and hit them in the spot that needs to be hit. I think we are also having problems getting the ball inside enough."