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Nicholson eyeing marks for Tigers

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

Several times last season, Fort Hays State University men's basketball coach Mark Johnson believed then-freshman point guard's Craig Nicholson's statistics, especially assists, would drop in 2013-14. Nicholson logged a heavy load with 31.8 minutes per night and was FHSU's only true point guard.

He tallied 13.8 points and 6.9 assists, second best in NCAA Division II, per contest en route to league Freshman of the Year honors.

Nicholson shot 44 percent from the field, 42 percent (35 of 84) from long range, and 79.5 percent (116 of 146 from the foul line).

Instead, as a sophomore, Nicholson's numbers have improved across the board. Helped by the new rule changes, Nicholson has averaged 16.9 points per game.

He is 142 of 173 (82.1 percent) on free throws and ranks second nationally in free throw attempts, behind Northeastern State University's Bryton Hobbs, the MIAA's top scorer.

Nicholson is shooting 44 percent from the field and is 14 of 41 (34.1 percent) from 3-point range. He again ranks second nationally with 8.1 assists per contest. St. Anselm's Dino Mallios has led Division II in assists per game the last two seasons.

"He is taking more shots," Johnson said. "The 'new rules' are probably in his favor. He gets to the foul line a lot. He is a very good foul shooter. He shoots over 80 percent, so he has a lot of games where he has had double figure makes, let alone attempts, in games. I think he is just being aggressive, putting pressure on the defense."

Nicholson's play has helped FHSU open 16-3, 7-3 MIAA and move to No. 24 in NCAA Division II entering tonight's game against Emporia State University (14-6, 7-3 MIAA). The women's game starts at 5:30 p.m. with the men's contest to follow at Gross Memorial Coliseum.

Nicholson, who averages 32.7 minutes per game, has helped FHSU play at a quicker, more efficient offense than last season. In 2012-13, the Tigers averaged 68 possessions and 1.12 points per possession. This season, FHSU is at 70 possessions and 1.23 points per possession.

"I don't know if we talked that much about the new rules, but I am sure that we mentioned it over time," Johnson said. "But that's his game. Speed is his game. You've got to utilize that in transition."

Nicholson could break his school mark for single season assists (6.9) and has a chance to set the Tiger record for single season free throw makes and attempts. Mark Wilson holds both records when he went 169 for 239 in 1978-79.

"He has got to be pushing the ball and using his speed and then in the halfcourt, he needs to be getting to the basket and attacking the rim and not only scoring for himself, but setting up other guys for their shots," Johnson said.

Shaw moves into starting lineup

Junior guard Keriann Shaw has taken over since sophomore guard Taylor Chandler has suffered a knee injury and missed the last two games for the Tiger women. Shaw, known more for defense and rebounding, has upped her offensive game in the last two contests. She tallied 22 and 23 minutes and scored six and three points. Before then, Shaw had 17 points this season for the Tigers (13-4, 6-4 MIAA).

"If it's there, coach has the confidence in me to take the shot or drive in," Shaw said. "No, I don't feel pressure to score."

Shaw has a similar game to Kelsie Sorenson, a four-year player and three-year starter who is now a graduate assistant.

"Kelsie is probably one of my biggest mentors," Shaw said.

Shaw averaged 3.3 and four rebounds her first two years and 2.9 this winter.

"I think the last two years, I was always paired up with her for drills and preseason workouts, we were always working together," Shaw said. "When we traveled, we roomed together, so she has helped me out a lot. If I have been a little frustrated, she helps talk me through what I can do better. I am really glad that she is back coaching this year, too."

Congiusta signs overseas

Former Tiger guard Ben Congiusta, an Australian native, has signed to play professional basketball for Club Baloncesto Clavijo, located in Longrono, Spain. The team is part of the Spanish Basketball Federation. Last season, Congiusta earned all-MIAA honorable mention and all-MIAA tournament team honors as a senior when he averaged 12.8 points and led the league with a 44.6 3-point field goal percentage.

Layups

Senior Dwayne Brunson, the Tigers' leader with 17.2 points and 8.3 rebounds per contest, has improved from his bothersome knee pain. Brunson had some issues in a Jan. 18 contest at Northeastern State (Okla.) University, but delivered a dunk at home against South Dakota School of Mines last Thursday: "More than anything, gaining more confidence," Johnson said. ... Laura Patrick, the leading scorer for the No. 3 Hornets (18-1, 9-1 MIAA) is the daughter of Erin Patrick and sister of Kyle Patrick, the Otis-Bison head boys' basketball coach and standout player, respectively.