It was a familiar scene Jan. 29 at Frost Arena, as the SDSU men found themselves with a late-game lead and a chance to put the game away. Unlike their previous three late-game collapses, the Jacks pulled off a 76-70 victory over Summit League opponent Indiana-Purdue-Fort Wayne.
The Jacks were in an eerily similar situation with the game in the final minute. Against North Dakota State in their last home game on Jan. 23, SDSU held a 71-66 lead with 56 seconds remaining and the Bison on the foul line. Against IPFW, SDSU held a 69-63 lead with 55 seconds left and the Mastodons on the line. Despite making both free throws, the Jacks stepped up late in the game, making 9-of-10 free throws in the final three minutes to hold on to the late-game lead.
“I have to admit that I got a little bit scared at the end,” said sophomore forward Anthony Cordova. “I was thinking, ‘Not this again,’ but Garrett (Callahan) and Dale (Moss) stepped up to the line and hit some big free throws and made me smile for the first time in three games.”
Cordova finished the game with 15 points and 11 rebounds for his fourth double-double on the season. He was also one of five Jacks to score in double figures led by Garrett Callahan with a game-high 22 points, followed by Clint Sargent with 13, Kai Williams with 11 and Griffan Callahan coming of the bench with 10 points.
The difference between the first and second game that IPFW and SDSU played this season is astounding when you consider that the Jacks lost 66-100 on Jan. 2 in Fort Wayne.
“It was really embarrassing,” said Garrett Callahan. “During the whole week of practice we looked back on that and told ourselves that it wasn’t going to happen again.”
A big part of IPFW’s early January win was 6-7 senior forward David Carson, who scored 24 points on only 12 shots and 10 rebounds, but was shut down by Kai Williams, who limited Carson to 13 points on 13 shots.
“Kai did a really good job on Carson,” said Cordova. “We worked all week on not letting him catch the ball, and when he did catch the ball, Kai was all over him. Every basket that he got, he earned. At IPFW, Carson did whatever he wanted to us, making a jumper or getting any layup he wanted. He just dominated. Kai stepped up with a big defensive effort.”
The Jacks got off to a quick start with an 11-3 lead in the first four minutes, causing IPFW to call an early timeout. After the timeout, the Mastodons closed the gap to 11-10 a little over a minute later.
“My biggest concern was trying to fight being flat tonight, and even though we started the game quickly, we didn’t have the energy that I would have liked to see,” said head coach Scott Nagy. “Coming off of the NDSU game and with it being a Thursday night game, we struggled with energy early. You wouldn’t think that we would having played a team that beat us by 34 points the game before. The nice thing was that our guys battled through it the whole night.”
The rest of the first half saw a lot of back and forth action with six lead changes and four ties.
“At the beginning of the game, it felt like it was another NDSU game with back and forth scoring,” said Cordova. “You get sick of that after a while, and I get mad and just want to go crazy out there because I hate going back and forth against each other like that.”
Now that the Jacks have a positive late-game situation that they can look back on, Nagy is seeing something from this current Jackrabbit squad that he has not seen in the past.
“I’ll say this about this team – and I’m telling you that in all my time as an assistant or a player or a head coach, and my wife can attest – I usually come home in late January and I’m just in a foul mood because teams do not practice well in late January. They don’t,” Nagy said. “They’re sick of practice, and they can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel yet. But this team has practiced great in January. It’s the best team I’ve ever had in terms of practicing in January, and it’s going to pay off.”
#1.881959:1638721928.JPG:DSC_0293.JPG:Kai Williams (23) looks to pass while being gaurded by IPFW’s John Peckinpaugh (11). The Jacks prevailed 76-70.:Ethan Swanson