By CONOR NICHOLL
Early season non-conference losses are rare for the Fort Hays State University men's basketball program under 12th-year coach Mark Johnson.
Last Saturday, though, the Tigers suffered a 70-68 home loss to Northwestern Oklahoma State University to drop to 2-1.
However, Johnson wasn't overly worried about the defeat.
His club is basically brand-new and NOSU is one of the stronger non-conference teams the Tigers have played in recent years.
"There is no reason to hit the panic button," Johnson said at his weekly news conference Monday afternoon. "The season is a marathon. It's not a sprint. It's one game.
"Obviously, we are disappointed in the way we played and all that, and we need to correct some of the things we did, but I don't think that's a panic sign at all or anything to start really worrying. We just need to worry about us and get better."
On Saturday, the Tigers will have another difficult non-conference test when they travel to Newman University in Wichita.
Newman is 3-0, including a win against Pittsburg State University. Game time is 4 p.m. at Fugate Gymnasium.
"We have one of the more difficult non-conference schedules," Johnson said. "You look at Northwest Oklahoma, they are a pretty good basketball club.
"We really haven't played that level of a team in our first three games most years, let alone a year where you have 10 new guys and one guy that played a year ago."
Fort Hays has won 18 straight versus the Jets, including nine in a row in Wichita.
Last year, Fort Hays won 75-65.
The last time Newman defeated FHSU was a 75-69 victory in 1981-82.
After the NOSU defeat, Fort Hays didn't have a game until Newman.
"We have got a good group of guys," Johnson said. "They want to do well. They are disappointed. Obviously, they didn't have success, but I think we responded well in practice and are trying to correct our mistakes. Second half, obviously, we played much harder and a lot tougher. But a lot of it is just lack of execution whether it be on the defensive end not getting to our help positions.
"We just got split off the bounce over and over and over late in the game. That can't happen. We've got to have better post defense.
"Foul trouble was a contributing factor. Offensively, we were just not executing anything, not setting a screen, not getting to where we are supposed to go."
Then, the Tigers will have one contest in the next 10 days with a home game against Central Christian (Kan.) on Wednesday.
After that, FHSU won't play again until conference play opens on Dec. 5 with a home contest against University of Central Missouri.
Junior forward Dwayne Brunson leads the Tigers with 18.3 points and 8.7 rebounds a contest.
"I think all of the mistakes that we made in that game, you can contribute that to a lot of new guys," Johnson said. "I think that was a major contributor. "But we can't use that as an excuse a whole lot longer.
"At our level, you've only got 10 scholarships. You have got to be ready to play, and hopefully we will improve from this."