Fort Hays State is still searching for its offensive rhythm early in the season, but Tigers’ coach Mark Johnson doesn’t mind seeing his team get by with defense and toughness until the Tigers find it.
That was the case on Sunday against the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs, with the Tigers grinding out a 67-51 victory on Sunday at Gross Memorial Coliseum.
“I thought we played hard and showed toughness,” Johnson said. “We’re still making some mistakes; it’s early still, you’re going to do that. But I thought our guys had a lot of pride with their toughness and effort.
“We just got to slowly but surely try to get better offensively. Your defense is always ahead of your offense at this point, and that’s the case for us right now."
The Tigers opened up a 36-25 lead at halftime and stayed in control, leading by as much as 24 late. FHSU struggled at times on the offensive end, but not to the extent that the Mountain Lions did.
Fort Hays held UCCS to just 24.1 percent from the field (13 of 54).
“It was good, I wouldn’t say it was great,” FHSU senior guard Marcus Cooper said of the Tigers' defense. “It’s definitely going to be improved pretty soon. Every day in practice it gets better and better.”
The Tigers (2-2) went 22 of 53 from the field for 41.5 percent while finishing with 22 turnovers.
A combined 46 foul calls didn’t help the offensive flow for either team.
“Both teams are to blame, and the officials were calling a close game so it was kind of hard to get into any flow or rhythm,” Johnson said. “We turned it over way too many times — 22 turnovers is ridiculous.
“We changed our offense a little bit, getting Brady (Werth) a little more room down low and giving our perimeters guys a little more space. We’re just having a hard time right now running good offense.”
Cooper led all scorers with 17 points, while Werth and Devin Davis each had 10. Jared Vitztum grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds.
After going for 27 points the night before in an overtime win against Colorado Mines, Werth struggled from the field, going just 2 of 9.
“Brady when he dunked (on Saturday) — he was probably lucky he didn’t break his wrist," Johnson said. "He came down hard. Both his hands are pretty swollen. You could tell, even just with his shot at the foul line, he was having a hard time releasing the ball. Hopefully he can be a little better for us on Tuesday (at Newman), because we’ll need him.”
Johnson said he liked the activity senior forward Freddy Bitondo brought inside, with the Sam Houston State transfer registering six points and four rebounds despite fouling out in 13 minutes.
“I thought Freddy played the way Freddy is supposed to play,” Johnson said. “Freddy’s an athlete, an activity guy. I thought he guarded well. He rebounded better today. … I thought it was his best game of the year.”
UCCS (1-3) was led by Blend Avdilli’s 16 points while Elijah Ross and Dalton Walker each had 10.
The Tigers, who evened up their record this weekend after falling to Sioux Falls and Southwest Minnesota last week in Marshall, Minn., will take on a 2-2 Newman team at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday in Fugate Gymnasium in Wichita.
“We started pretty bad a week ago, so we had to play these two games like it was our last games, and that’s what we did,” Copper said.
Tuesday’s men's game will follow the Fort Hays-Newman women’s matchup at 5:30 p.m.