Tiger men improve in second win
By CONOR NICHOLL
The new-look Fort Hays State University men's basketball team saw improvements from Saturday's season-opening win against McPherson College. On Tuesday, the Tigers rebounded stronger, guarded better and didn't have the first-game jitters. However, coach Mark Johnson is still concerned about FHSU playing at the right pace after an 84-44 victory against NAIA Bethany College at Gross Memorial Coliseum.
"Overall, we did well," Johnson said. "Where we have got to get better at -- we talked about it at halftime, we talked about it after the game, we are trying to push the ball more this year."
Fort Hays hasn't necessarily played slow-down in Johnson's 12-year tenure, but the Tigers are playing at a quicker pace this winter with freshman point guard Craig Nicholson and two big men that can run the floor in 7-foot senior center Rundell Mauge and 6-foot-7 junior forward Dwayne Brunson -- two transfers.
Junior guard Carson Konrade and senior guard Ben Congiusta have some speed at the wings and can shoot the 3-pointer effectively. Fort Hays shot 50 percent from the field in the first half and 46 percent for the contest.
"A lot of times, you can get some good 3-point opportunities in transition," Johnson said. "What we have got to figure out, though, after we push it and don't have anything, we have got to slow down. We play too quick in the half-court offense. We are trying to play quick in transition and then what we need to do is if we don't have anything, get the ball to three sides of the floor, run our stuff."
Fort Hays, historically known for strong rebounding with Johnson, was minus-2 on the glass against McPherson. On Tuesday, the Tigers won the rebounding battle 48-29. Brunson collected 11 points and five rebounds in the season opener and delivered 22 points and 11 rebounds, both game-highs, versus Bethany.
"Coach told us that we were bigger than the other team and that we should be more aggressive and go-getters and that's what we did," Brunson said. "We all have got to learn to play our roles and just let the game flow."
Fort Hays moved to 2-0, while Bethany used the game as an exhibition and stayed at 3-0. The Tigers will have their strongest test of the year Saturday when they play host to Northwest Oklahoma State University. In two regular season contests and three preseason scrimmages against outside competition, Fort Hays has played defense well.
"We played pretty decent for a new team and new guys and just four returners and only two guys who have played," Brunson said.
Congiusta, one of the team's two returners who has played significant minutes, delivered another strong contest with 13 points, all in the first half. He rested nearly all of the game after intermission. As well, he delivered lockdown defense again and contained Bethany guard Jason Mihalcin to zero points in nine minutes.
The Tigers' pace, though, still is evolving. Fort Hays is arguably playing the fastest it's played under Johnson.
"To me, I don't know how to define the pace, but you see a good team play and they just play at a nice tempo, a nice pace," Johnson said.
In the first contest, Fort Hays shot 45 percent from the field, 27 percent from 3-point range and committed 11 turnovers. FHSU had 12 turnovers Tuesday. The Tigers have played the first two games without junior center Andrew Victoria, who will miss several weeks with a knee injury. Fort Hays shot at least 48 percent against the four NAIA teams last season.
"We are getting tired quickly out there," Johnson said. "We expect our guys to play hard on defense and bust their tail in the half court, and then we get the ball and we run it down the floor. That's why Andrew getting back, we need some more depth. Because the way we are going right now, you get tired at a quicker rate and we will see if we continue. If we are not having success, we will do what we have always done."
"I don't feel like we have ever really played slow, but we are not just bringing as hard as we can every single time," he added. "Right now, we are trying to do that on missed shots and turnovers."