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FHSU men find a way to win

2/23/2012

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

The Fort Hays State University men's basketball team has longer road trips and more overnight stays than any other MIAA squad. At the shootaround before Wednesday's contest, the Pittsburg State University coaches even asked familiar questions to FHSU coach Mark Johnson.

"Everyone asked, 'How do you guys do this?,' " Johnson said. "What do you guys do all day laying around in a hotel? They have got to do it once a year. (The Tigers) have got to do it every time, so it takes your toll."

For years, Johnson and his staff have closely monitored the Tigers' fatigue. This winter, FHSU has little size and mainly uses seven players.

Because of the drawbacks, Johnson is aware of tiredness "more so than ever." They are cognizant of how long the Tigers practice and what the team tries to accomplish in practice.

Still, sometimes fatigue sets in, especially after two road losses, including one in double overtime, to Southwest Baptist (Mo.) University and Missouri Southern State University last Thursday and Saturday, respectively.

On Wednesday, a tired Tiger squad still found enough energy to win 66-60 versus Pittsburg State at Gross Memorial Coliseum.

"When you are as small as us -- when a big guy is fighting a small guy, when it's all said and done, the small guy is a lot more tired than the big guy," Johnson said. "That is something we have had to face all year. You have got to be able to fight through it. It's about toughness."

Fort Hays moved to 17-8, 11-8 MIAA and won for the eighth straight time versus the Gorillas. Pittsburg State dropped to 14-13, 10-10 MIAA. FHSU, which won for the fourth straight time at home, played seven Tigers at least 21 minutes. Senior forward Matt Simmons, junior Lance Russell (10 points, three steals) and senior guard Sean Dreiling (seven points, three assists) provided energy and production needed for the win. Dreiling played 21 minutes in place of junior point guard Kendrick Morse, who Johnson noticed looked tired.

"We have just been real fatigued," Russell said. "We've just got to play hard full time and get back in shape."

On Saturday, Simmons had to battle for 49 minutes against Missouri Southern's 6-foot-11 senior center Keane Thomann in the double-overtime loss.

On Wednesday, Simmons appeared fatigued to Johnson, but continued his strong season with another terrific line: 37 minutes, eight points, 15 rebounds and three blocks, both game-highs.

"I really felt like we had still a tired team out there today," Johnson said. "The trip just really took it out of us, I think physically and mentally, and the guys just battled through."

Simmons, who leads the conference in rebounds per game (10), defensive rebounds per game (7.1), blocks (51) and ranks in the top-10 for minutes played (32.7), has logged seven straight contests with at least nine rebounds.

"I really feel like Matt should be the defensive player of the year in our conference," Johnson said. "The question is, 'How important will the other coaches understand what rebounding is? Because defense is, you have got to get a stop and a rebound. If you don't get the rebound, you didn't have a successful defensive stance. So, I feel like he is the defensive player of the year guy and he should get it, but you just don't know how that factors in."

Among Tigers who see significant minutes, the 6-7, 225-pound Simmons is the lone post player and the only one who is taller than 6-4 or weighs more than 200 pounds. Simmons could become the first Tiger to average double figure rebounds for a season since Tony Thomas in 2000-01.

"It's definitely amazing. He gets mad at me when I try to take some (rebounds)," Russell said with a laugh.

Helped by Simmons, the Tigers lead the conference in blocks per game (4.0) and have played stronger defense lately. The last five opponents have all shot under 41 percent.

"It's all because of Matt Simmons," Johnson said of the blocks. "The thing is about being small, you can be small up front if you have big guards, or you can have small guards in the backcourt as long as you have big guys up front. We don't have either, so I will give these guys a lot of credit for the way they just kind of scrap along and claw and we are going to give up some offensive rebounds, that's part of it."

Fort Hays limited the Gorillas to 35.5 percent shooting, including 0-of-10 on treys. Junior JaVon McGee led PSU with 23 points and 11 rebounds.

"We just pressured them," Russell said. "They don't have too many shooters."

Fort Hays, paced by 18 points from senior Karron McKenzie, led 29-26 at halftime and extended the advantage to 14 points with 10:25 left. Pittsburg State closed the game when the Tigers (12-of-24 from the line) had trouble making free throws. Still, FHSU managed to end a two-game losing streak. Fort Hays will end the regular season Saturday versus rival Emporia State University at Gross Memorial Coliseum.

"I like the way we just keep fighting," Johnson said.


Scoreboard
Sport Date Opponent Score
2/18 SW Baptist L 66-53
12/1 Oklahoma - Panhandle L 66-60 (OT)