Men’s basketball escapes the cold, earns a win at Cancun Challenge

Travis Kriens

Travis Kriens

The SDSU men’s basketball team felt victory south of the border, as the Jacks split their two games at the Cancun Challenge in Mexico.

Basketball in paradise started with a 66-64 defeat at the hands of Central Florida on Nov. 29. This game saw the Jacks, with an eight-point halftime lead, wash away. UCF (3-3) used a 10-2 run midway through the second half to get back into the game, and the Knights took the lead for good with 5:52 to play.

The Jacks were held without a field goal in the final three minutes.

SDSU held Conference USA preseason first-team selection Jermaine Taylor to seven points on 3-of-14 shooting.

The Jackrabbits struggled from the free-throw line, hitting only 60 percent from the charity stripe. Redshirt freshman Josh Cassaday had a tough time, going 2-of -8 on free throws.

“He was embarrassed and frustrated,” head coach Scott Nagy said of Cassaday. “He knows that his missed free throws really hurt the team Saturday. Every free throw in a game, not just the ones at the end of the game but also the ones in the middle of the game, are just so crucial. We are starting to get to the free-throw line a lot now, and we weren’t early in the year. We don’t get a lot of easy baskets because we are not a very big team, so those free throws are very important.”

The Jacks (3-4) came back a day later and beat Central Arkansas (3-3) 72-67 for their third win away from Frost Arena since Dec. 4, 2006.

Junior guard Garrett Callahan led all scorers with 21 points and four steals, followed by teammate Clint Sargent who contributed 20 points.

“There was a while there where it seemed we were doing everything we could to give the game away,” said Nagy.

“There was a point with about eight minutes left where our kids were tired, and we had a team in there where we felt like we could stop them (Central Arkansas) by playing zone (defense). We did a good job of crashing the glass late in the game and getting offensive rebounds.”

Junior forward Kai Williams had a double-double in both games with 16 points and 11 rebounds in the opener and a season-high 20 points to go along with 11 rebounds against Central Arkansas.

Nagy said that the trip was beneficial to the players and that getting at least one win in Mexico was important.

“This is great for the players. I really think that if we had lost two down here, it would have felt like the trip wasn’t worth it,” Nagy said. “This win will help them enjoy it.”

With a win against Centenary at home Dec. 4, the Jacks will have a .500 record at 4-4. That would be the latest into a season that SDSU has been at .500 since they started the season with 17 consecutive wins and were ranked third nationally in Division II during the 2003-04 season.

The Jackrabbits return to the court with a doubleheader when they host Centenary to begin Summit League play on Dec. 4, followed by Oral Roberts on Dec. 6. Both games are scheduled to tip off at 7:30 p.m.

“We have two conference games this week, and those are games that we know we can win and we believe we are going to win,” said sophomore guard Dale Moss.