FHSU men roll in opener
By CONOR NICHOLL
Fort Hays State University senior center Rundell Mauge transferred to the Tiger program from NCAA Division I University of the Pacific (Calif.) this season. Last year, Mauge played in 17 games for Pacific and averaged 1.9 points and 1.9 rebounds per game.
Mauge should have had no issues being eligible for FHSU. However, Mauge, a Trinidad and Tobago native, had some problems with the NCAA about transcripts from several years ago. Even though Mauge had already played NCAA basketball, he was strangely declared ineligible. On Friday, though, the NCAA declared Mauge eligible and he started for the new-look Tigers in the season opener Saturday.
"It was a scary week," Mauge said.
Fort Hays, which returned just two players who had seen significant minutes for the Tigers in their careers, defeated McPherson College 77-48 at Gross Memorial Coliseum. McPherson was a NAIA Final Four team last winter. Four players scored in double figures and senior guard Ben Congiusta tallied a game- and career-high 15 points.
"At times, we played like a team that has a bunch of new guys," coach Mark Johnson said. "I thought we had nerves from some guys, which you would expect. Sometimes those nerves show up. Guys just seemed to be fatigued pretty early. Guys are breathing heavy. ... We've got to get a lot better. I thought we tried to do some good things."
The seven-foot Mauge finished with seven points and had teamhighs in rebounds (nine) and blocks (four).
He helped hold McPherson to 32-percent shooting from inside the 3-point line. Last season, opponents shot 44.6 percent from inside the arc.
Still, even with the Tigers' height, McPherson won the rebounding battle, 42-40.
"Sometimes when they are semi-open, it makes it difficult to finish, and that's the thing that we didn't have a year ago," Johnson said. "Last year, when we had a breakdown, usually it resulted in a made basket. I think this year, obviously you are going to have breakdowns in a game.
"You are not going to perfect," he added. "When that happens, it still makes it hard for them to finish. I thought our guys did a good job there. The thing that we have got to do is become a much better rebounding team."
Mauge grew up in a country where basketball ranks well behind other sports, including cricket and soccer. Mauge didn't start playing basketball until he was 16 years old. He played on a basketball academy team that went to Texas in a summer tour.
Mauge eventually ended up at the Putnam (Conn.) Science Academy, where he averaged 23 points and 13 rebounds a game. Then, he played at North Platte (Neb.) Community College, where he helped the squad win its first Region 9 championship. Johnson recruited Mauge at the national tournament, but Mauge went to Pacific for two years.
He came back to Hays and then ran into problems that he labeled "weird." Mauge's sister tried to get the proper paperwork sent and went back and forth between the city and school. At one point, she didn't have Internet on one half of the island, so she had travel to the south side of Trinadad and Tobago to get the paperwork faxed over sent to the north side.
"She was pretty busy," he said.
On Friday, the NCAA called Johnson with the good news: Mauge was cleared.
"It's a NCAA deal," Johnson said. "It's an amateurism deal. He already planned Division I. It was kind of a silly deal, but I think he did a good job of not letting it worry him too much leading up to the game. He found out Friday that he was ready to go, and I know that was a big relief to him and all of us."
Down 5-4 early, Fort Hays went on a 21-0 run to put the game out of reach.
Point guard Craig Nicholson, one of few freshmen to start in the 12-year Johnson era, finished with seven points, three assists and three turnovers. Two transfers, junior guard Nick Capiti and junior forward Dwayne Brunson, collected 12 and 11 points, respectively. Senior guard Lance Russell, the other player who has seen significant time, had 11 points. Fort Hays will play host to Bethany College on Tuesday. Game time is 7:30 p.m.
"I was just happy to play, just happy to be there for the first game, just happy to help my guys," Mauge said.