Golden Grizzlies end Jackrabbit men’s season in a rout

Travis Kriens

Travis Kriens

The upset-minded Jackrabbits fell short in their goal of reaching the Summit League Tournament championship game, as the SDSU men lost 74-56 to Oakland (Mich.) in the semifinal on March 9 at the Sioux Falls Arena.

One night after coming back from a nine-point, second-half deficit, the Jacks were unable to put much of a dent in the early lead that Oakland built.

The Golden Grizzlies never trailed in the game and went into halftime with a 20-point lead.

“I’m not sure we have ever had a worse night to have so many players have tough games,” said SDSU head coach Scott Nagy. “We just had a lot of guys that didn’t play well at the same time. The first 10 minutes defensively we were fine; we just put so much pressure on our defense because we absolutely couldn’t score.”

Sophomore forward Anthony Cordova was the only Jackrabbit in double figures, as he set a career high with 22 points while adding five rebounds.

“I thought after Saturday’s game we would come out and play hard for the rest of the season,” said Cordova. “Seeing how we came out today was so surprising and disappointing. I wasn’t ready at all. I thought the coaches had prepared us, but they can’t get on the floor and play for us. We have to do everything; we have to execute.”

Oakland head coach Greg Kampe went into the game not so much concerned with Cordova’s ability to score, as he was with defending SDSU’s shooting beyond the three-point line.

“If Cordova gets 40, we’re going to win because they’re only going to score 50,” said Kampe. “We had to make sure we took away the three-pointer.”

The Jacks were no strangers to their situation, as they came back from 17 points down in the second half to defeat Oakland at home in overtime earlier in the season. Not only was it the last game that the Golden Grizzlies lost prior to the tournament, it also changed the way that they approached the games the rest of the season.

“The loss at South Dakota State [earlier this season] changed our season,” said Kampe. “We thought we could outscore people. [From that point on] we started to win with defense.”

There was some question as to whether or not senior shooting guard Erik Kangas would play for Oakland, as he went down late in the quarterfinals game against IPFW with an ankle injury. Kangas ended up starting and showing little effect from the injury the night before by scoring a team-high 21 points.

“We honestly didn’t know if he was going to be playing,” said Kampe. “I did not tell people he was going to play. When we walked over here, I didn’t believe he was going to play. He was limping. I think the adrenaline [took over].”

“The biggest thing was taking the crowd out of the game,” said Kangas. “That was the most important thing.”

The crowd of 5,986 was the highest men’s semifinal session total since the 6,814 that were at the Rosemont Horizon, now Allstate Arena, in Rosemont, Ill., during the 1994 tournament.

The two crowds that saw the Jacks in their first-ever Summit League Tournament combined for just under 12,000. And while they got more than their money’s worth in the victory against Oral Roberts, Nagy says that the Jacks did not play up to par.

“It was nice to have the fans here,” said Nagy. “In a situation like this you feel like you have let everybody down. The players feel that way, and the coaching staff feels that way.”

“We are thrilled to have gotten a victory, but that can’t be enough. That’s the attitude that has to change, that’s what we have to change. We have made some great strides this year, we really have. After you go through it, it’s easy to say, it feels like one of the most up and down rollercoaster seasons I’ve ever had. I just don’t want winning one game to be enough.”

“I think it was a missed opportunity,” said Cordova. “We are so much better than our record showed this year. I feel we could have gone far.”