Jackrabbits start to learn to win, go 2-2 early in season

Travis Kriens

Travis Kriens

This year’s SDSU men’s basketball team has been on a roller coaster ride, and it is only four games old.

The season started off with an exhibition game against Dakota Wesleyan at Frost Arena, where the Jacks came away with a 77-72 win. The game was closer than expected, but it was the first game of the year and a chance for the freshmen on the team to get their feet wet in collegiate basketball.

The first regular season game was against the University of Mary (N.D.) In a game that looked to be a confidence builder against a Division II school, SDSU jumped out with a 12-0 lead early. The Marauders chipped away and pulled within five points early in the second half. The Jacks ended up winning their opener 61-54. The second half score was tied at 35, and even though SDSU was up by as many as 15 points, the Jackrabbits never pulled away and dominated as one would have thought.

On Nov. 17, the Grizzlies from Montana came to the Rabbit Den to deliver the Jacks their first loss of the year, 70-61.

The Jacks were tied at 30 at halftime and held a 26-12 rebound advantage. A 19-2 run in the second half fueled the Grizzles’ win as they pulled away in the second half.

Montana got 29 points from forward Jordan Hasquet, 21 of those in the second half, to lead all scorers.

For the second game in a row, SDSU had more turnovers than field goals.

“I was trying to figure out why at halftime we were tied, yet out-rebounding them by 14 and all the stats were pretty even, and I knew that it had to be turnovers,” said Head Coach Scott Nagy. “If we cut our turnovers in half, we probably win the game. That is the difference because we have enough offense to score.

“I feel that we are close and I know that we are,” Nagy continued, “but when I look around the locker room, we either have freshman who have not played in college or players that are not used to winning. We have to learn how to win.”

Nagy’s words of limiting turnovers and knowing how close the team is to being good would ring true as SDSU went on to face two teams within the NCAA tournament over the past few years.

The first road test of the year for the Jacks was against Wisconsin-Milwaukee. UWM won a first round NCAA Tournament game in 2006 against Oklahoma as an eleventh seed. In 2005, they reached the sweet 16 as a 12 seed, eventually losing to national runner up Illinois.

SDSU held a 10-point lead at halftime, but ended up falling short 89-80. Turnovers were a major factor again as the Jacks had 22.

The Wisconsin-Milwaukee lead was down to four with just over two minutes to play, but a Kai Williams technical foul after slapping the backboard after a dunk, giving UWM two free throws and possession.

In what would have definitely been the biggest win in the Division I era for SDSU men’s basketball, the team set their sights on another Mid-Major school with NCAA Tournament experience, Northern Iowa.

The Panthers made the NCAA Tournament every year from 2004-2006 losing each time in the first round by five points.

After staying close throughout the first half, UNI lengthened their lead to 11 with 3:24 left in the half. From there, SDSU went on a 22-4 run that lasted for the next 12 minutes. That run was enough to give the Jackrabbits a 61-55 win.

After letting a double-digit lead slip away three days earlier in Milwaukee, the Jacks came back from a double-digit deficit to secure the most impressive win for the men’s team since the move to Division I.

The turnovers were kept low at nine. Early season struggles at the foul line were a thing of the past as SDSU was 18 of 23 from the free throw line including 10 of 11 in the last two and a half minutes to cap a win over Northern Iowa.

The Jacks (2-2) return to Frost Arena this Saturday to take on the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay at 7 p.m.