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Tiger men roll by Sterling

By AUSTIN COLBERT

acolbert@dailynews.net

Fort Hays State University men's basketball coach Mark Johnson has a problem, one most coaches would do anything to have. It seems he has too many talented players and not enough spots on the court.

"We have a lot of depth. We are having a hard time figuring out how to get all these guys in the game," Johnson said. "With Andrew Victoria coming around and getting healthier, hopefully Jake Stoppel will be back fairly soon, that's a thing I think we do have. We have some depth at a lot of different positions."

FHSU was able to get its bench extended playing time on Saturday in the Tigers' 95-64 win over NAIA Sterling College at Gross Memorial Coliseum. The win moved the Tigers, ranked No. 20 in NCAA Division II, to 7-0 on the season with the MIAA opener coming Thursday at the University of Central Missouri.

Most of the damage was done by the starters, who jumped all over the Warriors en route to a 16-0 lead.

Sterling's first field goal came nearly five minutes into the game on a layup by Darius Alexander.

The lead continued to grow the rest of the half, and FHSU took a 33-point lead to the locker room at 58-25.

The Tigers shot 65.6 percent in the first half (21 of 32) and hit 5 of 7 3-pointers.

"I think our defense was really good," junior Achoki Moikobu said. "Rotation was good, everything was on point. We talked and communicated on defense and helped each other."

Moikobu, a transfer from Yuba (Calif.) College, finished with a career high 16 points coming off the bench. He had 12 of those points at halftime on 4 of 4 shooting.

What impressed Johnson the most was the play of his starters coming out in the second half. As wide of a margin as the halftime score was, maintaining focus throughout a game isn't easy. But the Tigers had no issues and stretched their lead to as much as 41 points at 93-52 with 3:54 to play.

"We try to come out with the same mindset, the same mentality, no matter who we are playing," Johnson said. "Just play the right way, keep executing and try to get better as we go into conference play. I thought our guys did a pretty good job of that, especially in the second half."

Craig Nicholson led the Tigers with 17 points, followed by Moikobu's 16. James Fleming (15), Dwayne Brunson (14) and Victoria (10) also scored in double figures for the Tigers.

The play of Moikobu, Fleming and Victoria, who also had a career high in points, off the bench especially stood out.

"It can't be everybody's game every night," Moikobu said. "We understand that as a team it's good that we have depth. Anybody can step up at any time. It makes a difference."

The Tigers will open MIAA play with back-to-back road games, beginning on Thursday at Central Missouri, a team that finished atop the MIAA standings along with the Tigers last year. Johnson hopes to have Stoppel back and healthy after missing the last three games with an ankle injury.

"We just have to keep battling," Johnson said. "I think Central Missouri is going to be there at the end and this time we only get to play them one time and it's at their place. So it's not like we get a return game. It would be good for us to go out there and have some success on this road trip."