Basketball team wins amidst controversy

Eric Monson

Eric Monson

In the midst of recent controversy, the Jackrabbits (6-15) defeated the Mustangs of Southwest Minnesota State University (10-8), in a closely contested battle Thursday night, 70-66. SMSU is the Jacks’ only Division-II opponent of the year.

The Jackrabbits played the game on the heels of an announcement that junior Mohamed Berte and redshirt freshman Andre Gilbert would be suspended from the team indefinitely, following allegations of sexual assault.

Needing help filling his roster, Head Coach Scott Nagy looked to the SDSU football team to fill the gaps left by Berte and Gilbert. The three football team converts playing and contributing to the win were Glen Fox, a freshman defensive back from Fairfax, Iowa, Mike Steffen, a freshman wide receiver from Mount Vernon, and Chris Wagner, a sophomore tight end from Brookings. Brock Campbell, redshirt freshman from Cherokee, Iowa, dressed for the game, but did not play.

Of his newly-borrowed players, Nagy said, “They were just great. They had fresh legs and great energy ? It wasn’t my intent to make it a circus out here. I needed them to help us win a basketball game, and they all gave us good minutes.”

The three football players combined for seven points, nine rebounds and zero turnovers in 15 minutes of action. Steffen hit a crucial shot down the stretch to help preserve the win for the ‘Rabbits.

Thursday night’s game opens a three-game home stand for the Jacks, who lost their last three games on the road.

A crowd of 2,117 watched as SMSU handled the disorganized Jackrabbit team through most of the first half. SMSU junior forward Chad Orum led all first-half scorers with 10 points.

The Jacks rallied towards the end of the first half. With six minutes left, junior guard Eric Heien dropped in a pair of threes, and sophomore post player Wagner, in his basketball debut, put in a pair of layups late in the first half. Capping the rally was sophomore Michael Loney. He took the ball away on a Matt Fletcher turnover, which led to redshirt freshman guard Matt Cadwell getting fouled while slashing into the lane. He converted one of two from the line, leveling the score at the end of the half at 30 apiece.

Early in the second half, SMSU was once again able to control the game, taking the lead on a jump shot by senior guard Undre Ellis. The Mustangs held the lead until 15 minutes to go in the second half, when junior Andy Kleinjan laid one up for two, tying the game at 38.

The Jackrabbits managed to control the rest of the game, relying heavily on the scoring of Cadwell. Time and time again, he flew by, beat and bullied his defender to the basket, garnering most of his points from the free-throw line on his way to a game-high 24.

Yet, SMSU managed to hang around in the closing minutes, when sophomore guard Fletcher poured in two three-pointers.

Still, Nagy’s team managed to hold off the Mustangs, even though Cadwell fouled out of the game with about one-and-a-half-minutes remaining. The Jacks were also without sophomore Mackenzie Casey for the last minute. He flew off the bench defending his teammate, Kleinjan, who was fouled hard by guard Andy Beilke. In the aftermath, the referees hit Mackenzie with a technical foul and an early trip to the locker room. Forty-five seconds after the skirmish, Kleinjan iced the game by converting a pair of free-throws with four seconds left, giving the Jackrabbits the victory.

Rebounding seemed to be the deciding factor in the game as SDSU out rebounded SMSU, 43-27. Impressive in limited action was tight-end, now post player, Wagner. Wagner, like concrete, never gave an inch while pulling down five boards in six minutes, tying him for third on the team in rebounds.

“He’s a horse. He’s exited to play and he’s tough, that’s why I like to recruit football players, because of that toughness,” said Nagy.

Whether or not Nagy’s players-on-loan will remain in basketball shorts rather than football pads is questionable. Nagy explained that it’s a week-to-week and game-to-game decision.

Eight games remain on the Jackrabbits’ schedule. Looking ahead, Coach Nagy said, “I don’t know how these last few games will play out, but I know we’re going to finish them with class.”