FHSU reserves playing big role



From Dec. 21 to Jan. 11, Fort Hays State University junior guard James Fleming played in five contests, scored in single figures each game and collectively went 2 of 11 from 3-point range for 25 points.

Before a Jan. 16 road contest at University of Central Oklahoma, coach Mark Johnson told Fleming to keep staying aggressive.

That night, Fleming played 32 minutes and tallied a career-high 20 points in a 101-97 overtime victory. Since then, Fleming has played in six contests and has delivered 14, 15, 17 and 16 points in four of those games.

"He knows how to talk to me, and that's good," Fleming said of Johnson. "I respect him a lot and what he has done. He tells me every game just be aggressive and everything else will take over."

Junior guard Achoki Moikobu, a first-year junior college transfer like Fleming, also has come off the bench. Moikobu hasn't seen the playing time he's wanted, but has kept working after practice.

Similar to Fleming, Moikobu has been better lately.

Moikobu delivered 15 points in a 97-92 double-overtime victory against Emporia State University last Thursday.

"He is a great kid, he is a gym rat, he loves basketball," Johnson said. "I am just happy for him. He hasn't got the minutes that he would like, and that's understandable. I want guys that want to play.

"If you don't want to play, you don't need to be here," Johnson added. "He takes it as motivation. He doesn't let that be a negative. He never brought the team down. He never brought himself down. He comes to practice everyday trying to work and get better. His time came, and he answered the call. I am really happy for him and proud of him."

In the last three contests, Moikobu is 4 of 6 from the 3-point line, and 7 of 10 from the free throw line. Overall, Fleming averages 9.5 points per game with 35 treys (36.1 percent 3-point shooting) and 82 percent from the foul line. Moikobu is at 4.6 points per game, 32-percent 3-point shooting and 74 percent from the foul line.

"Achoki had a good game last Thursday, and I knew James was going to have the same thing, because he was working out with Achoki," sophomore point guard Craig Nicholson said. "I said, 'I am happy for you guys.'"

Fleming and Moikobu's improved play has helped Nicholson and senior guard Carson Konrade on the perimeter. FHSU saw its 10-game winning streak end with a 90-83 road loss to University of Nebraska-Kearney on Wednesday.

The Tigers, ranked No. 23 in NCAA Division II, stand at 18-4, 9-4 MIAA with six regular season games left. Start time is 5:30 p.m. at White Auditorium. The Hornets have lost three in a row and stand at 14-9, 7-6 MIAA. Three of the last four games between the two teams have went to overtime. FHSU is 4-2 in a school and MIAA record six overtime contests this year.

"This is a tough conference," Nicholson said. "It doesn't matter. Every game is going to be a close game. It doesn't matter if you are last in the conference. Everyone is going to give you your best shot. It's crazy that we have been winning all these games."

The Tigers have shot 49.2 percent from the field, 40.3 from 3-point range and 79.6 from the foul line, on pace to shatter the school record of 76.7 percent from last season.

FHSU leads the MIAA and ranks third nationally in free throw percentage. Fort Hays stands No. 22 in 3-point field goal percentage.

Konrade leads the MIAA in 3s made per game (2.9) and is third nationally and first in the conference in 3-point percentage (51.7). Konrade is third among current Division II players in 3-point field goal percentage, according to NCAA statistics.

"The way we keep winning is just our chemistry," Nicholson said, the current active Division II leader in assists per game. "Outside of the gym, we are always together, and we all get along. We never argue with each other, but if we do, we always talk to each other, and we understand what's going on. We never let our differences get on the court. We all have such good chemistry."

Fleming and Moikobu have each built a relationship with Nicholson, who stands third in the country with eight assists per contest.

"Craig, he is a real good player," Fleming said. "He finds the open guy. All we got to do is make the open shot."

Moikobu hadn't hit a trey in three games before he went 3 of 3 from long range in his Emporia State performance.

"The rim hasn't been treating me well all year," he said. "It was just all about repetition. Craig did a good job of getting in the lane drawing defenders and just kicked it out, and I knocked it down."

While Konrade often makes his treys from the baselines, Moikobu's favorite spot is different.

"Good shooters, it really doesn't matter," Moikobu said. "I like to practice them anywhere on the court, but if I had a choice, probably top of the key."

In an 87-85 home overtime victory against Washburn University last Saturday, Fleming finished with 17 points, including 6 of 6 from the field and 4 of 4 from the 3s.

Sixteen points came in the first half when Washburn held senior Dwayne Brunson to just four field goal attempts. But Nicholson (15 points before intermission) and Fleming gave FHSU an early lead.

"They did a good job with Dwayne helping off on the back side, making it hard for us, and James and Craig just made them pay," Johnson said. "I would say this -- if I was playing us, that would have been my game plan."