Men complete first conference road sweep

Travis Kriens

Travis Kriens

“Isn’t it amazing what a little confidence will do?”

Those were men’s basketball head coach Scott Nagy’s words after a weekend Summit League road sweep of UMKC and Southern Utah that gave SDSU (9-8, 5-1) its fourth and fifth straight conference wins.

Coming into the week 3-1 in conference, the question still remained: could the Jacks win a pair of games on the road against two teams that they should beat? The answer was yes.

It started on Jan. 7 with a 74-69 win at UMKC (8-7, 2-2), where the SDSU team iced the game, making its last 14 free throws in the second half despite making only one field goal in the final five minutes.

Freshman point guard Nate Wolters scored all 12 of his points by going a perfect 12-of-12 from the free-throw line. It tied a single-game school record set by Jim Sutton in 1957 and Garrett Callahan vs. Southern Utah last season.

Kai Williams added a season-high 19 points with a game-high eight rebounds.

Two nights later, SDSU defeated Southern Utah 72-62 to complete its first ever road sweep in the conference.

Earlier this season, SDSU won its first Summit League road game ever over Western Illinois after losing its first 19.

SDSU doubled its 10-point halftime lead to 20 with 14 minutes left, but head coach Nagy didn’t think the game was over.

“We should have put this game away from the free-throw line, and we didn’t. When there was a timeout and we were up 19, I told our guys, ‘I’m telling you this will not be easy,’ and of course, they made their run.”

The Thunderbirds (5-11, 1-4) cut the lead down to four in the final 1:30 before Garrett Callahan hit a 3-pointer to put the game out of reach.

This run of recent success can be seen by the increased energy and effort on the court by a team that seemed sluggish during the early part of the season.

“Nothing has changed on my part in terms of what we preach,” Nagy said. “Maybe the players have just changed and are starting to see what it takes to win. The way we have always done it here when we have really been good is defense and rebounding. I think that they are starting to get a feel for that, and you can tell that it’s giving them confidence on the offensive end. You can just see it in their body language.”

Something else that has changed over these last four games is leading scorer Callahan coming off of the bench to add instant offense.

“It’s not too bad to bring an all-conference caliber player like Garrett off the bench,” said Nagy.

“If you look through our lineup in terms of getting our guys to play at the level that we want them to play at, we have pretty much taken every guy that has started at some point this season and sat them down for a reason or another,” he said. “Garrett is a great teammate and has meant a ton to this program. We are certainly not trying to single him out because we pretty much singled everybody out. We are just trying to get everybody to play at the level that they can play.”

Up next for the Jackrabbits is a game at defending Summit League champion North Dakota State (5-10, 2-3) on Jan. 15 at 7 p.m. SDSU has not beaten NDSU since 2004 and has lost six in a row in the series.

The Bison are as beatable as they have been in any of the past five years, while SDSU is enjoying its best season at the Division I level. The time could be right for the Jacks to turn this rivalry around in their favor.

“If you keep winning road games, you put pressure on everybody else,” Nagy said. “We have not been in that position, obviously, for a long time. Our players are enjoying how it feels. They are really locked in. It’s just a good feeling for me, too.”

TV Coverage

The men’s and women’s game at NDSU can be seen on KSFY. The men on Jan. 15 at 7 p.m. and the women on Jan. 16 at 7 p.m.