Tiger men win at Sprint Center
By AUSTIN COLBERT
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Bigger isn't always better, a discovery both the Fort Hays State University and Rockhurst University men's basketball teams made on Tuesday when they met at the Sprint Center as part of the CBE Hall of Fame Classic.
"It's a big arena -- it's an open arena -- that guys aren't used to playing in. We figured both teams would struggle shooting the ball, so I think you just really need to come out and play hard and defend, and I thought we did that," FHSU coach Mark Johnson said. "Not that they weren't playing hard and not ready to go, it's just there is not a rhythm, there is not an atmosphere, and it's kind of hard."
The Tigers certainly had it better than Rockhurst, which missed its first 15 shots from the field en route to an early 19-3 hole and eventual 72-48 defeat in front of a sparse crowd. The win moves FHSU, ranked No. 20 in Division II, to 6-0 on the season.
Key to Rockhurst's slow start was the Tigers' ability to slow down senior guard Brandon McCann, who was averaging 19.8 points per game entering Tuesday's contest. A combination of Tiger players, led by Carson Konrade and James Fleming, held McCann to three points on 1 of 8 shooting.
"We just had to have one guy chase him around all night and get in his head," FHSU senior forward Dwayne Brunson said. "We had subs and different bodies thrown at him so we had different looks on defense and just threw him off and did what we wanted to do."
Brunson carried the Tigers with 19 points and 11 rebounds, his fifth straight double-double this season. He only had seven double-doubles all of last season.
The Tigers entered their game against Rockhurst (2-3) averaging more than 90 points a game. What concerned them was a sub-par defense, which came together in a big way against the Hawks.
FHSU led 41-16 at halftime, holding Rockhurst to 3 of 28 shooting (10.7 percent) for the half. The Hawks' first field goal came with 9:49 remaining in the first half, an easy lay in by Russell Burns off a missed jumper.
"I thought against (Oklahoma-Panhandle State) and Newman at home, offensively we played it very good," Johnson said. "I was disappointed in our defense.
For a half both of those games we didn't play very well. We guarded for 20 minutes instead of 40. It was nice to get out here and reestablish a defensive presence."
The Hawks never threatened in the second half and trailed by as much as 33 points with 5:49 to play. The Tigers didn't have a field goal the rest of the game from that point, but still held on to win by 24 points.
It was the first meeting between the teams since an 86-58 FHSU win during the 2004-05 season.
The only other player in double figures for the Tigers was Jared Tadlock, who was forced to start in place of the injured Jake Stoppel, who is week to week with a "bad ankle sprain." Tadlock finished with 11 points and made 3 of 4 from 3-point range.
"Obviously you just have to have that mentality to attack right from the get go," Tadlock said about coming off the bench.
"It's always a little more difficult to shoot in gyms like this. It might be something to do with the rims, basketballs, atmosphere, but it was a lot of fun. I know I speak for my teammates. We enjoyed it and it's always better to get the win."
Adam Fatkin was the only Hawk in double digits with 10 points, six of which came from the free-throw line.
The Tigers will return home on Saturday with a game against Sterling College at Gross Memorial Coliseum, following the FHSU women's basketball game against Tabor College, which begins at 2 p.m.