Men continue successful season over break

Travis Kriens

Travis Kriens

A 5-1 stretch over the winter break has propelled the SDSU men’s basketball team into second place in the Summit League. But what might be more impressive is how the Jacks have done it.

The biggest win may have been at home on Dec. 31 versus preseason number-two pick Oral Roberts.

After knocking the Golden Eagles (9-8, 4-2) out of the Summit League Tournament last season, SDSU (9-8, 5-1) made clutch plays down the stretch, going 6-for-6 from the free-throw line to overcome a five-point deficit in the final three-and-a-half minutes of the Dec. 31 game.

“With less than four minutes to go, I think we were down five, and our kids just stuck with it,” head coach Scott Nagy said. “We did a little full-court pressure, and it caused a couple of turnovers, some big turnovers for us. Even as a coaching staff, we were a little willing to step out of what we were used to and gamble a little bit, and our kids did a nice job with it.”

The biggest difference in the game was the Jacks’ 47-29 edge in rebounding. Kai Williams had a game high of 10 rebounds, becoming the first SDSU player this season to earn double-digits in rebounds.

“Our team understands that the biggest stats this season are rebounding,” Nagy said. “We have won every game that we have out-rebounded our opponents and lost every game that we have been out-rebounded. We’ve won a couple of games here where we have rebounded the ball really well, played good defense and not been very good offensively. I think it’s important that our players understand that what wins games is defense, rebounding and physical play.”

Two nights later, the effort was still there with a dominating 89-59 win over Centenary (La.).

The 48-21 halftime lead was the largest since Dec. 2001, and the 30-point win was the biggest conference win since Jan. 2003.

What worried Nagy the most going into the game was a let-down against Centenary, who will become a Division III school in two years.

“My concern coming into the game coming off the Oral Roberts (game) was being flat, just kind of assuming that this was a game that we could be flat and walk through and win,” he said. “Our players did a really, really good job of paying attention to us and following the game plan. Defensively we were just really locked in, particularly in the first half when that was the difference for us.”

The Jackrabbits’ last two wins have come on the road (at UMKC and Southern Utah) in conference. They were 0-18 all-time in conference play coming into the season.

“Expectations are high, and we played a tough non-conference schedule, but it’s clear that we are better than we were last year,” Nagy said. “I think that (the ORU game) is an indication of that.”

Despite some setbacks, the Jackrabbits are on a path of improvement.

“We are making steps in the right direction,” said Nagy. “That doesn’t mean every single step we take is going to be in the right direction. It might be two steps forward and one back.”