With two victories over the break, the Fort Hays State University Tigers jumped four spots in the latest National Association of Basketball Coaches poll to No. 14.
The undefeated Tigers put their record to the test against a pesky Lincoln University team that came into the game with a 1-2 record.
However, the day ended with another routine win for the Tigers, who won again by a wide margin of 95-79 and advanced to 7-0.
But the game was not all that pretty for the Tigers in their conference opener, winning in their sloppiest game of the year.
Fort Hays committed 21 turnovers – a season high.
“It’s always good to get a win, pretty or not,” said senior forward Ken Bowman.
The sloppiness started from the get-go for Fort Hays, which won the opening tip, but then proceeded to turn the ball over on a miscommunication between junior Ben Congiusta and senior Dominique Jones.
The Tigers would turn the ball over two more times in their next eight possessions.
“Turnovers have not been a problem really for us all year long,” said head coach Mark Johnson. “But today for some reason, we didn’t take care of the ball like we needed to”.
Some of the ball control problems can be contributed to the defense that was shown by the Blue Tigers.
Lincoln ran a match-up zone, which is something the Tigers have not seen all year.
While the Tigers struggled with the ball, the Blue Tigers of Lincoln had the same issues. The Tiger defense forced 18 turnovers, resulting in 13 points.
The Tigers seized control of the game during the second half, outscoring the Blue Tigers 51-39. Rather than the guards making the difference, it was play from the guys inside the paint.
Bowman and senior teammate Dijon Smith dominated the inside, combining for 26 of their 51 first half points and eight of the team’s 17 rebounds.
The lack of guard play was due to foul trouble by seniors Corbin Kuntzsch and Karron McKenzie, who both committed three fouls and sat on the bench most of the first half.
The second half was the lowest point of the game for the Tigers, but the highest point for Jones who rallied to score 13 points to finish the game with 18. Smith, Bowman, Congiusta and Kuntzsch also scored in the double digits.
Along with his 17 points, Bowman grabbed 11 rebounds to complete his double-double. Smith was only a mere four rebounds from getting a double-double, finishing with six rebounds.
The Tigers play again tomorrow against a University of Nebraska-Omaha team with a reputation for playing the Tigers tough, especially at Gross Memorial Coliseum.
“It’s a very challenging matchup for us,” Johnson said.
The big question will be who is going to guard who as the Mavericks have nine players well over six foot and the Tigers bring a smaller lineup to the table.
Last season’s matchup featured a win by the Tigers, but Jones had to hit a shot near the buzzer to secure the victory. The tipoff is set for 7:30 p.m. Friday at Gross Memorial Coliseum.