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Tiger men win in overtime

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. -- The Fort Hays State University men's basketball team was in constant foul trouble and had trouble with turnovers, especially when freshman point guard Craig Nicholson missed eight minutes in the second half after he picked up his fourth foul.

Plus, junior forward Dwayne Brunson and senior guard Lance Russell suffered from illness the last couple of days and played at less than 100 percent. Fort Hays lost a big lead late.

However, the Tigers made just enough plays and maintained a lead nearly all game. Fort Hays collected an 84-74 overtime road victory against Missouri Western State University on Saturday at MWSU Fieldhouse.

"Right now, you are disappointed with how you finished the game, but you are not sad," Tiger coach Mark Johnson said. "So it was important to get a win, to get a road win."

Fort Hays moved to 5-2, 2-0 MIAA, while Missouri Western dropped to 4-4, 0-2 MIAA. The Tigers have won five in a row against the Griffons, but at Missouri Western has always proved challenging for FHSU. This winter, Fort Hays is 2-2 in games decided five points or fewer or in overtime, while Missouri Western fell to 0-3 in such contests. The last five meetings in St. Joseph have been decided by six points or fewer or in overtime.

"We are a hard-working team, and we are just going to keep playing together," Brunson said. "We love each other and we are just going to grind it out until the end."

Fort Hays never trailed in the second half. Nicholson left the contest with 13:52 remaining in the contest and the Tigers leading 53-47. FHSU led 68-61 when he came back with 5:02 left. He finished with 17 points, 10 assists and five turnovers.

"We have to have him out on the floor," Johnson said of Nicholson. "He is the guy. He is a freshman. He is being a freshman at times. He had five turnovers -- he had too many turnovers, but we will take (that line) every time. He is just playing tremendous right now the last two games. But we are just putting so much pressure on him. The other guys they have got to want to step up and take the ball and be confident with it."

Senior Ben Congiusta ran the point effectively. He had couple of poor decisions, but did find Russell and junior Carson Konrade for 3-pointers in the stretch. Without Nicholson, Russell had six points and forced a miss on a breakaway layup from junior Adarius Fulton. Russell and Brunson led the Tigers with 18 points. Alfreeman Flowers led Missouri Western with 19 points.

"Sometimes when you are a little under the weather, you have some of your better games," Johnson said.

However, Missouri Western went on an 8-0 run and eventually tied the game up late.

With 40.4 seconds left, Fort Hays lost the ball near midcourt. A scramble ensued at the Griffons gained possession on a jump ball. After a timeout, Reed Mells immediately tied the game at 70 with a trey from the right wing.

Fort Hays had a chance in the final seconds, but Brunson missed inside and Missouri Western grabbed the rebound with 2.7 seconds left. Fulton missed a three-pointer from midcourt to send the game into overtime.

Fort Hays started overtime with Nicholson and Congiusta playing with four fouls. Senior center Rundell Mauge had already fouled out. But the Tigers never lost the lead.

"Things just run better when Craig is out there," Johnson said.

Junior Carson Konrade hit a trey in the first few seconds after overtime started. With 2:36 left in overtime, Nicholson had a steal and layup for a five-point lead. Fort Hays led 77-74 and Missouri Western had a chance to tie after it grabbed an offensive rebound after a Griffon missed free throw, but Brunson intercepted a pass underneath the basket.

Fort Hays is off for a week before it plays at Oklahoma Panhandle State University in non-conference action Saturday.