It was in a way, a reversal as to how Fort Hays State University men's basketball coach Mark Johnson felt his team would play.
Coming off an 11-day separation of games, the 17th-year Tigers head coach thought his team might struggle in the first half, then take off after that. What he witnessed in the final non-conference game of the season was a quick start followed by a lackadaisical, not quite in sync second half.
The end result of an 87-62 win over NAIA foe McPherson College, though, was good enough. It's just that Johnson hopes his team is able to put complete games together now that MIAA play will fill out the rest of the season schedule.
"We had 12 days off where we didn't play and eight days of Christmas break where we didn't practice," Johnson said. "We were pretty sharp in the first half. Did a lot of good things in the first half outside of rebounding. We shot it pretty well in the first half. Second half was a completely different story. We just weren't into it. Mentally we weren't into it."
Fort Hays (11-3) came out hot in the first 20 minutes, building a 55-25 lead at intermission. The Tigers shot 66.7 percent. After halftime they made just 41.9 percent of their shots. What Fort Hays did get for the entire game was offensive consistency in the paint from senior Hadley Gillum and junior post Brady Werth. The two combined for 13-of-20 from the floor. Werth finished with a game-high 18 points and Gillum followed with 17. The 12 Tigers who played all scored.
"I didn't think there was too much rust to knock off," Werth said. "In the second half the defense wasn't what it should be… But, I think we did all right in our first game back from break."
The quick start for the Tigers kept the Bulldogs from ever really being able to make a serious run. The only time McPherson (3-14) was able to show much of comeback punch was a 10-0 run in the second half, that cut a 33-point deficit to 63-40. Johnson called a timeout and Fort Hays responded with a 8-0 run.
It wasn't as if the Bulldogs laid down and stopped fighting. The largest lead the Tigers mounted from there was a 74-42 advantage after a Trey O'Neil 3-pointer.
"Give McPherson credit for not quitting and kept battling back in the second half," Johnson said. "You have to play 40 minutes because they're all conference games from here on out. We have got to learn from this and realize it's a 40 minute game."
Along with Werth and Gillum's point totals, O'Neil and Marcus Cooper dropped in 11 points apiece.
"We were up 30 points (at halftime) and I don't think we came out with the same energy we had in the first half," Gillum said. "I think that's what the difference was."
McPherson was led by Aaron Bachura with 16 points and Garrett Owen added 10.
The Tigers step back into MIAA play Thursday at Central Missouri. They will follow the trip to Warrensburg, Mo., at Southwest Baptist on Saturday.