Injury still ailing Tigers' Brunson
By CONOR NICHOLL
By CONOR NICHOLL
When conference play opened, Fort Hays State University senior forward Dwayne Brunson was averaging 19.9 points and 10 rebounds. He had four contests of at least 22 points, including one game with 33. Brunson had recorded five double-doubles in seven games. Coach Mark Johnson called Brunson possibly the MIAA's best player.
However, throughout the conference slate, Brunson has battled a difficult knee injury. Brunson said he is usually between 85 and 90 percent.
Brunson usually feels the pain on the rise and has become a below-the-rim player on rebounds. Sometimes, he doesn't even jump when he shoots.
Brunson believes he would be the league's top player if he'd been fully healthy. Instead, he could possibly repeat his first-team selection from last season, but likely earn second-team honors.
"I could probably have a lot more scoring in me if my injury wasn't in play right now," Brunson said.
Brunson averages 17.1 points and 7.7 rebounds. He shoots 55.7 percent from the field and 84.7 percent from the foul line.
In several early-season contests after the injury, Brunson couldn't log more than 20 minutes. Since Jan. 6, he has tallied at least 26 minutes in all but one contest.
"He has gotten more confidence as the season has gone on," Johnson said. "Anytime you have a little bit of an injury bug, it sits in your head a little bit. You are hesitant to do things. I think as we have gone on in the season, that's probably not totally gone away, but diminished it a little bit, and he is able to just play and react."
Even with the injury, Brunson's productivity is vital for a Tiger team currently receiving votes in the NCAA Division II poll and ranked No. 6 in the first Central Region rankings released Wednesday. On Wednesday, Brunson went 3 of 9 shooting for six points and collected five rebounds in a 79-70 road loss to Washburn University. Brunson struggled against Washburn forward Alex North, one of the league's top players.
"It's hard for him to get his base and go up and finish on his bad wheel," Johnson said. "I feel bad for him. He has had to battle through it."
The defeat dropped Fort Hays to 20-5, 11-5 MIAA with three regular season contests left, all at home.
"It's real big, because he is our real big presence in the post," sophomore point guard Craig Nicholson said of the 6-foot-7, 220-pound Brunson. "He is the only one who can actually make something happen down there in the post, so we try to find him, but it's just hard when everybody is double teaming him all the time."
Brunson remains the team leader in rebounds and ranks second in scoring behind Nicholson (17.6). Even though he can't jump as high, Brunson has been intelligent on rebounds.
"My high school coach always told me, '70 percent of the shots go long,'" Brunson said. "So if the opponent is shooting the ball on one side, 70 percent of the time, it's going to go on the opposite side, so that's why I am always in the right place. ... I am worrying about the ball and where it is going to be, and if my man is there, then I am going to box him out."
On Saturday, the Tigers play host to rival University of Nebraska-Kearney (12-11, 8-8 MIAA) in a 4 p.m. start at Gross Memorial Coliseum. UNK lost to Emporia State University, 92-83, in its last contest and ended a seven-game winning streak. Connor Beranek averages 18.2 points and 6.6 rebounds a contest, while Ethan Brozek is at 16.2 points and 7.2 rebounds.
"He is probably playing as well as anybody in the league," Johnson said.
Brozek has played in 13 games after he started 27 contests last season. Brozek decided to transfer to the University of Nebraska, but then decided to come back this season, but wasn't able to play until second semester. The Tigers fell 90-83 to the Lopers in Kearney on Feb. 5.
"When we went to Kearney, everyone's head wasn't in it," Nicholson said. "We just didn't show up to play, but now we are all ready for them to play on Saturday."