Tiger men move to 4-0
By AUSTIN COLBERT
The Fort Hays State University men's basketball team made its first six 3-point attempts on Tuesday in its regular-season home opener against Newman University. The Tigers then missed their first six 3-point attempts of the second half to turn what had been a rout into a game the Tigers were hoping not to lose.
"It seemed like even the ones that shouldn't have gone in were going in. We were getting some good rolls (in the first half)," FHSU senior guard Carson Konrade said. "At halftime we came out a little bit slow. We thought maybe we could let up a little bit and with a team like that, which shoots the ball as well as they do, you can't ever let up. I think we came out not ready to play like we did in the first half and let them right back in the game."
The Tigers, which led by as many as 20, saw their lead dwindle down to as few as six points midway through the second half before holding on for a 96-87 win at Gross Memorial Coliseum. FHSU, which broke into the NCAA Division II national rankings at No. 25 this week, moved to 4-0 on the season, its best start since the 2011-12 season.
The win also avenged an 80-78 loss at Newman (2-2) a season ago.
Of all the factors that led to the Tigers' poor second-half shooting performance on Tuesday, endurance seemed to be the main culprit. Sophomore transfer Jake Stoppel, a starter at forward, was limited to only 10 minutes after spraining his ankle in the first half. Also, junior center Jared Tadlock was limited to nine minutes after early foul trouble.
This led to four players with at least 30 minutes of playing time, including Konrade who played the entire game. With two of its main post players out, FHSU coach Mark Johnson was forced to put some players at positions they weren't used to, an example being junior guard Tomislav Gabric who stepped in to to fill the void left by Stoppel.
"We gassed a little bit in the second half. Guys played too many minutes, our defense kind of dropped and we didn't guard as well as we had," Johnson said. "But more than anything we were just playing some guys out of position with Jake getting hurt and Tom having to play the four the whole second half. We really haven't done a lot of practice with him running the four against a zone defense ... he really was just running around, and I think that hurt us a little bit."
The Tigers only trailed for 20 seconds against Newman, coming when the Jets took a 3-2 lead after a Trae Beck 3-pointer. The rest of the half FHSU could barely miss and built a 20-point lead just before the break and led 54-38 at halftime.
A 4-0 run to start the second half built the lead back out to 20 points, when Newman would mount a 20-6 run of its own to cut the Tiger lead to 64-58 with 11:54 to play. The Tigers were 0 of 6 from 3-point range in the second half at this point after shooting 8 of 11 from deep in the first half.
"Things were getting away from us. I felt like we got a little -- I don't want to use the word panicked, because I don't think we ever got to that point -- but we just got a little hesitant," Johnson said. "When you shoot it so well in the first half you just know the odds are you probably aren't going to shoot it that well in the second half."
Tadlock, despite being limited by foul trouble, made two crucial shots at this moment in the game by draining back to back 3-pointers, helping push the Tigers' lead back out to 12 with less than 10 minutes to play.
Newman would get as close as seven on a couple of occasions with less then six minutes remaining, but key buckets and free throws kept the Jets at bay and the Tigers would hold on for the win.
Senior forward Dwayne Brunson led the Tigers with 22 points and 14 rebounds, his third straight double-double. Konrade had 20 points, going 4 of 8 from 3-point range, and Gabric had 18 points and 10 rebounds filling in for Stoppel. Sophomore guard Craig Nicholson had 11 points to go with a career-high 15 assists.
"I'm just penetrating and kicking," Nicholson said. "I tell my guys before every game to just spot up, I'm going to look for you. I'm not really looking for my shot as much. I'm looking for other guys to get them going and make sure they have a good game."
Beck paced Newman with 18 points on 5 of 9 shooting from 3-point range.
The Tigers will host Oklahoma-Panhandle State at 4 p.m. Saturday.