Tiger men grind out win
By AUSTIN COLBERT
WICHITA -- Fort Hays State University men's basketball coach Mark Johnson believes toughness is much like shooting, dribbling or passing -- it must be learned.
During the Tigers' 0-2 start, maybe they weren't tough enough. But on Tuesday in their 82-75 win over Newman University at Fugate Gymnasium in Wichita, toughness was one of the few things the Tigers did well.
"I was really proud of the guys. From that opening weekend, we've really talked about toughness. It takes time," Johnson said.
"You got to learn to be tough. And I thought tonight we really showed some toughness. ... I thought we just won the game because we came out here and wanted it and our guys were tough."
Tuesday's win was the first of the season against a NCAA Division II opponent for FHSU (3-2), its other two wins coming against NAIA schools Central Christian College (84-42) and Bethel College (103-54) last week. And for this reason it also makes it the Tigers' best win so far, an important grind-it-out type victory with MIAA play just around the corner.
"If you want to be up there in the top whatever, three or four, in the MIAA, you got to find a way to win these games," Johnson said. "Hopefully this is a building point for us and we gain confidence. But more importantly I hope we gain an understanding of how these things happen."
FHSU received double-digit performances from four different players, with both junior forwards Jake Stoppel (11 points, 12 rebounds) and Dom Samac (14 and 11) finishing with a double-double. The Tigers were led by junior guard Craig Nicholson's season-high 25 points, while senior guard Achoki Moikobu added 14.
Newman (2-1), however, received 30 points from junior guard Reggie Baker, who did everything he could to make the Tigers earn the victory.
"He's a good player. The good thing is, I guess, he scored 30 but we made him take 24 shots," Johnson said of Baker.
"He's a difficult matchup. He's just a guy that shoots the ball and he handles it just well enough. He's not great with the dribble, but he's just athletic enough and just good enough to get around you and cause problems and things like that."
The most trouble FHSU found itself in came midway through the first half when Newman took its largest lead at 25-16 and fouls started mounting against the Tigers. The lead didn't last long, as FHSU would reclaim the advantage at 31-30 and led by four points with 1:29 to play in the half.
The finish to the half came with a touch of drama. Baker hit a 3-pointer with three seconds remaining to give Newman a 1-point lead, and as time expired Moikobu heaved a three-quarter court shot that hit nothing but net at the buzzer, his desperation toss giving FHSU the 41-39 halftime lead.
Despite fouls rising on both sides, each team continued to bang each other around in the second half, FHSU's depth inside proving to be a significant factor in the win.
"I thought with our depth we could play through foul trouble. They can't," Johnson said. "We could just play through it. And foul trouble really doesn't seem to hit us that much. Obviously if Craig's in foul trouble that's a big deal for us, but I think we can rotate in a lot of bigs and things like that."
FHSU controlled much of the second half, its largest lead coming at 70-60 with 6:29 to play. The Jets would get no closer than five points over the final 7:51.
The Tigers shot 47.8 percent from the floor, whole holding Newman to just 39.0 percent shooting.
FHSU is off for Thanksgiving and will return to the court at 4 p.m. Saturday in Hays against NAIA Sterling College (2-5), its final tune up before beginning MIAA play Dec. 4 against the University of Central Missouri, the defending national champions, in Hays.