Tiger men grab 10th straight victory
By CONOR NICHOLL
Fort Hays State University inbounded the ball from under its own basket with two seconds left in overtime Saturday. Tiger coach Mark Johnson held up two fingers on the sideline, yelled "two" and reminded his team how much time remained. FHSU believed Washburn University would focus on senior guard Carson Konrade, the team's top 3-point shooter.
Senior forward Dwayne Brunson gave senior point guard Craig Nicholson a look. Brunson was wide open about a foot behind the free throw line and knocked in the game-winning shot for an wild 87-85 overtime victory at Gross Memorial Coliseum.
"I said, 'If you don't give me that ball, bro, we are going to have problems,' but he gave it to me, and I knocked it down," Brunson said.
The victory was the Tigers' sixth overtime contest this season, and broke the MIAA record of five set by Washburn University in 2006-07 and Emporia State University in 2007-08. FHSU had set the school mark for overtime games in a single season in Thursday's 99-92 double-overtime home victory against Emporia State University.
"We are just tired, but if being tired means getting the job done, we will keep doing it," Brunson said.
Fort Hays won its first overtime contest against Upper Iowa in the season's second game before it lost two road overtime games at University of Central Missouri and Missouri Western State University on Dec. 5 and 7.
Now FHSU has won three overtime games in a row, starting with a 101-97 contest at University of Central Oklahoma on Jan. 16.
"They made a nice play," Washburn coach Bob Chipman said. "They popped the big guy out. We were kind of worried about the area around the basket. He popped out, and we lost him a little bit."
This time, Konrade tallied seven points in overtime for FHSU, including a guarded trey from the right wing with 1:02 left in overtime that tied the game at 85. Fort Hays, ranked No. 24 in NCAA Division II, won its 10th straight contest and moved to 18-3, 9-3 MIAA. Washburn dropped to 14-5, 7-5 MIAA in front of a season-high 4,877 fans.
FHSU last played back-to-back overtime games in 2001-02, coach Mark Johnson's first season as head coach, but split those two contests. The last time the Tigers won back-to-back OT contests was the last two games of the '83-84 national championship year.
"A lot of it just comes down to hitting a big shot," Johnson said. "Carson hit a big 3 to tie the game in overtime. Dwayne hit the big shot. I think earlier we missed those, and the other team made the big shot. I do think we have done a better job of rebounding the basketball in overtime. In close games, a lot of times, it's the second shot that will get you beat, not the first shot."
Fort Hays led 43-29 at halftime and opened a 17-point lead with 17:27 remaining in regulation. Washburn, went finished 14 of 25 from beyond the 3-point line, closed the gap.
"We had two possessions in a row where we didn't give great effort, and didn't get out to the shooter," Johnson said. "All of a sudden, they make a 3 and it's 14, all of a sudden, they make a 3 and it's 11."
Five players tallied double figures for the Ichabods, including 23 from junior Alex North. Brunson and sophomore forward Jake Stoppel had four fouls late in regulation.
"In a close game, we can't afford to have Dwayne sitting on the bench with five fouls," Johnson said. "...We were giving up some baskets just trying to keep our best offensive team out there. That's what they do. They don't have a lot of size. They have the ability to get hot from 3 in stretches."
Fort Hays had a chance to ice the game in the final 32 seconds, but junior James Fleming and Brunson each 1 of 2 from the foul line. With 11 seconds remaining, FHSU led 77-74. Johnson decided to play defense on the final possession instead of fouling. North tied the game with a banked in 3-pointer from several feet beyond the arc.
"Most games, I would take that shot for them to try to tie us," Johnson said.
After Konrade tied the game in overtime, North missed a jumper with 29 seconds left. FHSU milked the clock before Nicholson, who led the Tigers with 23 points, missed a jumper. Konrade grabbed the rebound and set up the final play. In the "2" play, Brunson, who had 19 points, made the read.
"They were worried about Carson getting open, hitting a 3," Nicholson said. "That's usually how it works when Dwayne is wide open. I looked at Dwayne before the play, and he said, 'Give me the ball and I found him.' Thank God he made it."
Konrade curled on his screen, and Brunson's man went down to the basket.
"Instead of slipping to the basket, (Dwayne) slipped away from the basket," Johnson said. "...Of any big man in the league that you want shooting that 15, 17 footer to win the game, I would say Dwayne Brunson would be the first on your list."
Brunson, long known for mid-range game, hit the basket, then ran down the court in celebration as teammates mobbed him. Officials put .3 seconds back on the clock. Washburn inbounded the ball, but couldn't get off a final shot.
"Shooting that shot for me is just like shooting a free throw, that's why it's just so easy for me to shoot," Brunson said.