Defense leads men’s basketball to tourney victory

 

The SDSU men’s basketball team kept busy over the winter break, winning a tournament in Utah, tangling with ranked opponents on the road and firing up conference play.

Right after finals week, the Rabbits traveled to Logan, Utah to take part in the World Vision Classic, hosted by Utah State. The Jacks went 3-0 there, with wins over Idaho State, Bakersfield (Cal.) and Utah State. Both the Idaho State and Utah State games were decided in overtime. Playing his first three games as a Jackrabbit, Junior Wisconsin transfer George Marshall garnered tournament MVP, while Cody Larson was named to the All-Tournament team.

“It wasn’t as much about how great George played in that tournament, and I think he’d say the same thing,” SDSU head coach Scott Nagy said. “He didn’t shoot the ball great, we didn’t play well offensively as a team, but we played really well defensively there and that’s what won it for us. In terms of him getting MVP, when you win the tournament, your team will probably have the MVP, and he had the most points for us.”

SDSU made the most out of their trip to Utah. Two days after winning the World Vision Classic, they traveled to Salt Lake City to take on No. 14 Utah of the Pacific-12, where the Rabbits seven game winning streak was broken in a 80-66 loss.

After absorbing that loss, the Jacks came back to the Midwest, but faced yet another ranked team on the road in No. 23 Northern Iowa. The Panthers kept the Jacks on the wrong side of the win column, 74-63, bringing the SDSU non-conference slate to an ungracious close.

The conference slate opened with two road games for the Rabbits at Denver and North Dakota State. The post-Utah State slide continued as the Jacks fell in both of those contests, falling 76-69 at Denver, and dropping a nail biter in Fargo, 72-69. Despite the four game skid, Coach Nagy felt fatigue had more to do with it than any on-court issues.

“We played seven tough games on the road,” Nagy said. “I don’t know if there’s another team in the country who played as tough of a stretch as we did for that time. The travel just wore us down. I know I was tired, and I wasn’t even playing the games. The biggest mistake we made was as a coaching staff we put too much emphasis on how we guarded each individual team instead on how our team guards and our fundamentals.”

It took a little home cooking to end the losing streak as SDSU hammered Western Illinois 75-44 in Frost Arena. Having righted the ship, the Jacks took to the road again to take on the Mavericks of the University of Nebraska at Omaha, where they tied their highest point total of the season in an 87-68 victory.

T h e previous 87 point outing came on Nov. 24 against Chadron State in Brookings.

After averaging 21 points per game in those two contests with outputs of 17 and 25, Marshall was named Summit League Men’s Basketball Player of the Week, his first such honor as a Jackrabbit.

The Jacks return to action this week hosting IUPUI on Wednesday, Jan. 14 at 7 p.m. They follow that up with the season’s first matchup with SDSU’s main rival, the Coyotes of USD on Saturday, Jan. 17, at 4:30 p.m. The USD game might get the headlines, but Nagy wants the team to take it a game at a time.

“We’re focused on IUPUI right now,” Nagy said. “They’re 2-1 in the conference, and could be 3-0, against the three teams picked to finish in the top three. They have a lot of confidence and are playing really well, so we have to be focused and prepare for that. “