Brian Lester, NCAA.com
Mark Johnson isn’t surprised that his Fort Hays State basketball team is one of the elite teams in the nation. The Tigers have four seniors who just happen to be the top four scorers on the squad.
Their experience has made all the difference in the world for Fort Hays, which is charging toward another trip to the NCAA tournament despite a 75-68 road loss to Central Missouri on Saturday.
“Those guys have been through the rigors of Division II basketball,” Johnson said. “They understand that you have to elevate your game every night and their performance and leadership has paid off.”
Senior guard Dominique Jones has led the way. He is scoring 17.8 points per outing while senior forward Dijon Smith is pumping in 14.6 points per game.
Senior forward Ken Bowman (11.3) and senior guard Corbin Kuntzch (10.8) have been steady contributors as well for the Tigers, who own a 20-4 record overall and a 14-4 mark in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletic Association.
“We knew we had a good group coming back and that we would have a chance to be pretty good team,” Johnson said. “We had success last season and I feel like things are going well. We are playing hard on both ends of the floor and have good inside and outside scoring.”
While the Tigers have had little trouble putting points on the board, clicking for 83.2 points per outing, defense was a concern for Johnson going into the season. He hasn’t had to worry too much, however, as Fort Hays is giving up 69 ppg.
“It was our question mark. We lost our top four defenders and had to find a way to replace them,” Johnson said. “We have made a lot of improvements on defense throughout the year.”
Fort Hays was ranked third in the South Central Region last week and has four games remaining to build momentum for the postseason. Johnson is confident his team will play its best down the stretch.
“We have to stay focused and be mentally tough,” Johnson said. “We can see the finish line and our goal is to play well and play hard the rest of the way so that we are prepared for the tournament.”
Need to Know
• There won‘t be a perfect season in Division I. No. 1 Ohio State lost its grip on a 15-point lead and suffered a 71-67 loss to No. 13 Wisconsin in a Big Ten showdown at the Kohl Center Saturday afternoon in Madison. The previously unbeaten Buckeyes seemed to have control in one of the toughest environments in college basketball until Jordan Taylor played out of his mind and scored 21 of his 27 points in the second half, including eight in a row during a 15-0 run to lead the comeback. It marks the second time the Badgers have beaten the top team. The last time was 1962 when they also knocked off a top-ranked OSU squad. William Buford scored 21 to lead the Buckeyes while freshman sensation Jared Sullinger tallied 19 points and 12 rebounds. The Badgers stretched their home win streak to 17 games as they snapped OSU‘s 24-game win streak.
• No one expected much of New Jersey City University early on. The Gothic Knights were under .500 and destined for little success, but they have been on a roll lately, winning heir eighth consecutive on Saturday with an 81-69 upset of No. 22 Ramapo. Da’Shon Barrino fueled the win. Known for wearing his neon-colored shoes, the senior point guard scored 17 to go along with three assists and three steals as NJCU improved to 15-8 overall and clinched a spot in the New Jersey Athletic Conference tournament for the first time since the 2007. The Gothic Knights were only the second team to hold Ramapo under 70 points this season.
• Mercyhurst College rattled off its 11th consecutive win Saturday, topping California (Pa.) 85-76 in a Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference game. The No. 19 Lakers used a balanced attack to get the job done as five players scored in double figures. Luis Leao led the charge, pouring in 19 points on a day when Mercyhurst shot a sizzling 60 percent from the field.
• The Crusaders attempted 66 free throws and made 49, four shy of the Division III record, as they defeated Lycoming College 89-82 in Commonwealth Conference action. Alvernia was 23-of-32 from the line in the final eight minutes of play as it held off a furious rally attempt by the Warriors.
• Appalachian State star Donald Sims became the ninth player this season to score at 2,000 career points, reaching the milestone in a 68-62 win against Elon last week. Sims, who scored 17 points, hit three free throws to hit 2,000 points.
• Talor Battle became only the second Big Ten player in the last decade to score 2,000 career points. The Penn State standout reached the milestone Sunday as the Nittany Lions rolled past Northwestern 65-41. Battle scored 19 points and helped PSU snap its three-game losing streak.
• Brian Scott has never stopped working hard even though Tiffin has had little success during his career. On Saturday, in a 68-67 loss to No. 20 Hillsdale, the ninth loss this season by 10 points or less, the senior guard became the 29th player in school history to score 1,000 points.
• Jonathan Mitchel was fouled as he made a 3-pointer with less than a second left and helped Rutgers take down No. 9 Villanova 77-76 last Wednesday. Mitchel hit the free throw to secure the win and finished the game with 25 points while Rutgers snapped a four-game losing streak that included two setbacks to ranked teams.
• Norris Cole nearly had the first triple-double in Cleveland State history on Saturday, scoring 41 points, grabbing 20 rebounds and tallying nine steals as the Vikings defeated Youngstown State 86-76 after trailing by 11 in the first half. Cole’s effort was the first 40-20 game in college ball since Blake Griffin did it against Texas Tech in 2009.
• Jamal Wilson’s only basket of the game, a putback as time expired in overtime, led Rhode Island to a 71-70 heart-stopping win against Charlotte and won their 10th home game for the eighth time in the last nine seasons.