FHSU rolls to win
By CONOR NICHOLL
Through five contests, the Fort Hays State University men's basketball team has well-defined strengths and weaknesses. The new-look squad has some deficiencies, namely trouble with turnovers and execution, and little scoring from its bench.
However, the Tigers are a strong shooting team.
On Tuesday, FHSU improved with running its offense and minimizing mistakes. Helped by a career-high 21 points from junior Carson Konrade, the Tiger bench had 43 points.
Fort Hays continued to shoot the ball well, making 50 percent of its shots and 47 percent of 3-pointers in a 94-39 non-conference victory against Central Christian (Kan.) College at Gross Memorial Coliseum. FHSU saw its two-game losing streak end and improved to 3-2.
"That was the talk in the last two days of practice, before the game, was I don't care who we are playing tonight, it doesn't matter who we play," FHSU coach Mark Johnson said. "We just need to win and be energized and ready to go, and we did that. I think offensively, I thought we moved as well as we have all year."
Central Christian, 9-0 and ranked No. 22 in NAIA Division II, used the game as an exhibition and was a little fatigued and depleted. Central Christian had a road game in Lincoln, Neb., on Monday night. Kaelon Gary, who averaged 16.5 points per contest last year and 16.4 this season, didn't play because of off-the-court issues.
Fort Hays averaged 26 turnovers in losses to Northwestern Oklahoma State University and Newman University, two quality opponents. Newman is now 3-0 against the MIAA this season with victories against FHSU, Pittsburg State University and Emporia State University.
Against NWOSU on Nov. 17, Fort Hays shot 49 percent from the field, but had just 11 bench points. Versus Newman last Saturday, FHSU shot 50 percent from the field, but had 32 turnovers and just eight bench points.
Against Central Christian, Fort Hays committed just eight turnovers. FHSU ran a secondary break well several times. Early in the game, senior center Rundell Mauge collected a rebound and fired a pass to senior guard Ben Congiusta near half court. Then, Congiusta found junior forward Dwayne Brunson sprinting down the court. The assist led to a layup.
"Our execution needs to get a lot better," Johnson said. "For whatever reason, this team -- and rightfully so, it's the most new guys we have ever had -- but probably picking things up has been the slowest that it's ever been.
"Even the last two days in practice, if you talk about frustration, probably more frustrated with our inability to pick things up than anything else," he added. "We have got to be patient with this number of guys."
Through the first four contests, Konrade normally had been the Tigers' first player off the bench. He had tallied six points a contest, but was 8 of 19 from the field and 2 of 13 from 3-point range. The last two days, Konrade, a Spearville graduate and Colby Community College transfer, tried to get into the gym whenever he had time.
"Just get up some shots and just get my confidence back," he said. "It really paid off, and I am going to have to keep doing that. Over the past couple of games, it hasn't been as good as I have wanted it to be, so Coach just told me to get some shots up and get my confidence back, so that's what I did."
Konrade finished 7 of 8 from the field and a perfect 5 of 5 from long range. Konrade upped his career high with the Tigers from eight points to 21.
"Carson is getting better and better," Johnson said. "Sometimes, his biggest problem is he is such a great person. He wants to do everything right and wants to do everything perfect and sometimes that gets in his way when you try to be perfect in everything that you do. He needs to relax a little bit and not be so perfectionist out there. I think when he does that, he will have more games like this."
Senior Lance Russell scored 12 points, including 4 of 7 from beyond the arc, while Brunson had 15 points in 18 minutes. This season, FHSU has shot 48 percent from the field and 40 percent from beyond the arc. Fort Hays takes a week off before it opens conference play at home against University of Central Missouri.
"Every team has their strengths, every team has their flaws," Johnson said. "I think looking in right now, we really think Ben can shoot the ball, we really think Lance can shoot the ball, we think Carson can shoot the ball.
"We don't have a lot of juice off the bounce, so we have got to be able to shoot the ball, and we have got to find ways to get them shots," he added. "How do we do that? We have got to screen better. How do we do that? We have got to get it inside. We need our post players to be able to score inside and demand a double team. We have got to get better in that area."