Jacks get the jump on the ‘Roos

By Austin Hamm, Sportswriter

SDSU knew that the Kangaroos of UMKC would try to control the tempo of Saturday’s game with their star point guard Martez Harrison. But the Jacks also knew if they could corral him and turn great defense into good offense, they would hold the advantage.

Lead by Jake Bittle’s 18 points and eight rebounds and Cody Larson’s 18 points with a career high six blocks, the Jackrabbit men’s basketball team (4-3,0-0 Summit League) claimed a 81-61 victory over their former Summit League opponent in the Kangaroos (3-6), now members of the WAC.

“It all starts with defense,” Bittle said. “If we’re engaged defensively and we’re getting rebounds, the offense comes, and that’s been the focus the last few practices.”

Harrison had been averaging 17.8 points-per-game, good for third in the WAC on the season, but the Rabbits held him to 12 on 4-13 shooting. He also came in Leading the WAC in assists with 4.6 per game, and in assist-to-turnover ratio at 1.68, but was held to two assists with seven turnovers.

“He comes off a lot of ball screens, and he’s hard to trap because he’s so quick, but we’re very fortunate to have Cody, who’s as quick a big man that you’ll find,” said SDSU head coach Scott Nagy. “We wanted to stay with him as long as we could until he got rid of the basketball, which is hard to do because of his quickness, his strength, and his aggressiveness, and you don’t want to foul him, but we wanted to make him give up the ball and make someone else beat us.”

SDSU got a big lift defensively from the nine combined blocks they got from Larson and Connor Devine, who finished with three blocks in nine minutes of work.

“We knew we’d be a good shot blocking team, Cody’s a tremendous athlete and very big, and Connor’s even longer than him and very bouncy. We don’t necessarily count on 9, but for me and the different teams I’ve had, this is one of the better shot blocking teams I’ve coached,” Nagy said. “We can depend on it and design your defense around it, and we’ve done that, we try not to help out on drives from the perimeter and just kind of let our bigs hang around the basket and block shots.

SDSU jumped out to a 9-0 lead to start the game, and held a 19 point advantage at half time after holding UMKC to 31 percent from the field. But the ‘Roos battled back in the second half, coming as close as 10 with eight minutes left.

“We were good offensively in the first half because we were good defensively.  We made them shoot from the perimeter, but we didn’t give up anything inside and we didn’t foul,” Nagy said. “In the second half, we weren’t as good offensively and that hurt our defense. The game got slower, they started isolating people and driving, and all we did was foul, they got to the free throw line. That was by design for them, they wanted it slowed down, and it almost worked.”

Next up for the Jacks are the Billikens of Saint Louis on Tuesday. The Billikens (5-3, 0-0 A-10) have made the Round of 32 in the NCAA tournament the last 3 seasons and are coming off a loss against Wichita State.

“They had a top-10 team last year, but they’ve lost just about everybody. They’re retooling this year just like us. I know they’re going to be good defensively because I know coach [Jim] Crews, but other than that I don’t know much about them,” Nagy said.