FHSU men pull away for win
By CONOR NICHOLL
Coach Mark Johnson discussed scouting reports with his Fort Hays State University men's basketball team in the locker room Saturday night.
The Tigers keyed on Pittsburg State University sophomore guard Jake Bullard and junior guard Devon Branch. Johnson said opponents focus on sophomore point guard Craig Nicholson and senior forward Dwayne Brunson, and keep an eye on senior guard Carson Konrade, one of the nation's top 3-point shooters.
"That should open it up for other guys," Johnson said.
FHSU took advantage and, paced by junior guards James Fleming and Achoki Moikobu, outscored PSU 36-6 in bench points and rolled to an 87-69 victory at Gross Memorial Coliseum.
"I have been shooting it well, he has been shooting it well, so we have confidence with each other," Fleming said. "Probably the best roommate that I have had, so we have very good chemistry together. He is a very good guy."
FHSU, receiving votes in the national poll, moved to 20-4, 11-4 MIAA, while Pittsburg State dropped to 7-15, 3-12 MIAA. Johnson earned his eighth 20-win season in 13 years, breaking the school mark.
"It's a great feeling getting to 20 wins, but coach has said, we can get to 20 wins, but we can also get to the (NCAA) tournament," Fleming said.
Fleming collected a game-high 20 points in 21 minutes off the bench, and Moikobu finished with 16 points in 13 minutes, including a rare five points in .7 seconds to end the first half.
"The key to the game was our bench," Johnson said.
The pair helped give Nicholson, Brunson and Konrade some needed rest. Nicholson leads the conference in minutes played in league games (37.0), while Konrade stands fourth at 35.7 -- and is playing with a bad ankle. Brunson, who still had 17 points, has fought a knee issue for months.
"He is a little bit drained," Johnson said of Nicholson. "It was good to only play him 27 minutes and get the win. I am probably the worst about it -- he is such a security blanket for me. I hate to take him out of the game when things are (tight). In this league, every game is tight."
FHSU led 45-39 at intermission against a Gorilla team that could have been above .500 in league play if it won more close games.
"I knew it wasn't going to be easy," Johnson said. FHSU led 38-37 before Moikobu made a trey with 17 seconds left. PSU, led by 19 points from Bullard, drew to 41-39 before Moikobu was fouled with 0.7 seconds remaining. He made one of two foul shots. Pittsburg State tried to inbound the ball, but threw wild. The ball bounded down the court and Johnson yelled for his players to not touch it.
They obliged and FHSU retained possession under the Gorilla basket with no time elapsed. Johnson spread the floor, the Tigers threw to Moikobu, who hit a buzzer-beating 3.
"That's roommate love right there," Fleming said with a big smile. "He is in the gym all the time. ... He stepped up, that's a big shot. I have never seen that."
Johnson said it was a "little bit" of the same play the Tigers ran for Brunson when he hit his game-winning overtime shot against Washburn on Feb. 1. FHSU didn't use a back screen this time, because the Gorillas ran a zone.
"It was just a read," Johnson said. "They were zoning up. Achoki made a good read. We were thinking about telling Craig, 'Lob it to Dwayne.'
"I am sure (PSU) was thinking the same thing -- seven-10ths, let's plug the paint, and left Achoki open. He did a great job of making the shot."
Early in the second half, Nicholson picked up his third foul with FHSU up 47-44. But Fleming and Moikobu keyed a big run that put the Tigers up 21 with 11:45 remaining. FHSU will travel to Washburn University on Wednesday.
Fort Hays 87 Pittsburg State 69
PITT STATE (7-15, 3-12 MIAA)
Jake Bullard 7-15 2-2 19, Devon Branch 5-11 4-9 15, Josiah Gustafson 3-6 5-5 12, Conner Kjer 4-8 2-2 12, Gregory 1-2 3-3 5, Cordray 1-5 0-0 3, Williams 1-4 1-4 3, Eaddy 0-0 0-0 0, Hays 0-0 0-2 0. Totals -- 22-51 17-27 69.
FORT HAYS (20-4, 11-4 MIAA)
James Fleming 3-7 11-12 20, Dwayne Brunson 8-10 1-2 17, Tom Gabric 4-7 4-8 13, Nicholson 3-8 3-4 9, Konrade 2-9 0-0 8, Stoppel 1-4 2-2 4, Victoria 0-1 0-0 0. Totals -- 25-49 29-37 87.
Pitt State 39 30 -- 69
Fort Hays 45 42 -- 87
3-point goals -- PSU 8-19 (Bullard 3-5, Branch 1-3, Gustafson 1-3, Kjer 2-4, Cordray 1-4); FH 8-18 (Gabric 1-3, Nicholson 0-1, Konrade 2-7, Fleming 3-5, Moikobu 2-2). Assists -- PSU 12 (Bullard 4); FH 17 (Nicholson 6). Steals -- PSU 6 (Branch 3); FH 9 (Nicholson 3). Blocks -- PSU 2 (Bullard, Branch); FH 2 (Brunson, Victoria). Total fouls -- PSU 25, FH 23. Fouled out -- Branch, PSU, Konrade, FH.
Rebounds -- PSU 31 (Kjer 5); FH 31 (Stoppel 6). Turnovers -- PSU 14, FH 9. A -- 4,846.