Tigers hold their own early in loss to Jayhawks
By AUSTIN COLBERT
LAWRENCE -- Fort Hays State University men's basketball coach Mark Johnson didn't skirt the fact that his team was never going to beat the University of Kansas.
KU, ranked No. 5 in Division I entering the season, is on an entirely different playing field than FHSU and it showed over the long haul when the teams met in an exhibition game on Tuesday at Allen Fieldhouse.
"It's a great experience but at the same time in the back of your head there is that fear that this could get ugly in a hurry," Johnson said. "Obviously we were playing a great team and eventually what happened was going to happen. But I thought while we were out there our guys did a great job."
The Jayhawks went on to defeat FHSU 92-75, but the Tigers came out and were able to hold their own in the early parts of the game.
After KU's Wayne Selden Jr. scored the first bucket, FHSU sophomore guard Craig Nicholson answered with a 3-pointer to give the Tigers a rare lead over the Jayhawks. FHSU's advantage reached as much as five points on two occasions in the first half, including at 14-9.
"We got behind early and I don't think it's much about poor play -- maybe shot selection. We shot too many perimeter shots," KU coach Bill Self said. "I thought the first unit was pretty stale, with the exception of Frank (Mason) and then when we subbed our second unit was better."
FHSU held KU to only nine points over the first 6:01 of the game, but by halftime the Jayhawks had a 56-36 lead over the Tigers. Most of the damage was done without help from Andrew Wiggins, KU's heralded freshman, who became just the second freshman ever named to the Associated Press preseason All-American team this week.
Wiggins didn't have a point until his dunk with 3:04 to play before the break. Wiggins scored the final six points of the half to give the Jayhawks a 20-point cushion.
"We just tried to come out there and play as hard as we can and try to keep it as close as we can," Nicholson said. "The big thing was just try to focus on defense because that is what we are really lacking at. If we keep working on the defense we should have a pretty good year."
FHSU outscored KU in the second half by three points, but most came well after KU had built a 32-point lead with less than eight minutes to play. The Tigers never relented, however, and outscored KU 21-6 over the final six minutes.
Senior Dwayne Brunson led the Tigers with 15 points on 7-of-11 shooting, followed closely by Nicholson's 14. Jake Stoppel was next for the Tigers with 9 points.
"I think we are really happy with how we played," Nicholson said. "We stuck in during the second half when we could have just let up and let them run us. But we played with heart and I'm happy for our guys."
KU was led by sophomore Perry Ellis and Selden Jr., who each finished with 13 points. Wiggins had 10 points.
FHSU finished its exhibition schedule with a 1-1 record following its Nov. 5 win over Bethel College. The Tigers open their regular season at 5 p.m. Saturday against Southwest Minnesota State in Marshall, Minn.
The Jayhawks open their regular season on Friday with a 7 p.m. home game against Louisiana Monroe.