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Tigers hang on for 'W'

1/12/2014

By CONOR NICHOLL

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

The Fort Hays State University men's basketbll team set one record that had been discussed the last several weeks when coach Mark Johnson moved to 258-109 in his head coaching career. It broke Cade Suran's school mark of 257 victories set from 1946-65.

The Tigers also tied another mark when sophomore point guard Craig Nicholson finished 19 of 23 from the free throw line. He tied the school record set by Sam McDowell at Central Oklahoma in 1963-64.

Nicholson's 27 points helped the Tigers deliver an 88-85 victory against last-place Lincoln (Mo.) University on Saturday at Gross Memorial Coliseum. FHSU will travel to University of Central Oklahoma and Northeastern (Okla.) State University on Thursday and Saturday.

Win "258 is just like all of them," Johnson said. "When you win, it's a relief. You move onto the next one. We've got a big two-game road trip down in Oklahoma. Something like that, when the season is over, you appreciate and you think of all the players that have played here for you in the 13 years."

Saturday resembled many of Johnson's wins during the years, especially in conference: a close victory. Johnson stands at 156-81 in conference play, including 89-54 in the MIAA. After the game, public address announcer Ken Windholz announced Johnson's mark.

"Jeremy Brown deserves a lot of credit," Johnson said of his veteran lead assistant. "I wish sometimes the wins could go under his name, too. Because he deserves a lot of credit, too. He has been here eight (straight) years now, (12) overall. The players deserve most of the credit. They are the ones that make the plays and win the game. I think we have had high-character guys that have allowed us to coach them."

Fort Hays moved to 12-3, 4-3 MIAA and won its fourth straight game. Lincoln dropped to 2-13, 0-7 MIAA, but gave FHSU a close contest.

"We knew going in, MIAA games aren't easy," Johnson said. "I don't care what the records say or you might want to expect or think, but it's going to be hard every night out. You've got to earn your victories. I thought Lincoln played well."

Lincoln only led at 2-0, but stayed within 14 points all game. The Tigers led 48-37 at halftime, but, on their fourth game in eight days, ran out of energy after the break.

"I really thought in the first half, we played hard," Johnson said. "I was really happy with our effort. Our problem in the first half, with about seven minutes to go, we just had mental breakdowns. ... I thought we hit the wall really, really hard in the second half."

In the first seven conference contests, FHSU has always been the "lone wolf" on the schedule. While Fort Hays had to play Thursday, Lincoln didn't. Last week, the Tigers played Missouri Southern on Saturday and SBU on Monday. SBU didn't have to play Saturday.

"Not that needs to be an excuse or anything, but I think that contributed tonight a little bit," Johnson said.

Lincoln finished 9 of 18 from 3-point range and received 27 points from Joshua Buie and 24 from Charles Cole. Nicholson helped the Tigers go 35 of 40 from the free throw line and finished two points off his career high.

"We won, so that's all that matters right now," junior Tom Gabric said. "Free throws, the only thing is confidence. Throughout the whole game, me, Craig, Dwayne, Carson (Konrade), everybody was just confident."

FHSU hit its first 29 foul shots to offset 1 of 10 from beyond the arc. Senior Dwayne Brunson had 20 points and Gabric collected a career-high 19.

"We are still shooting our free throws good, I still wish that could translate to our 3s," Johnson said.