When shots don’t fall

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SIOUX FALLS, SD – NOVEMBER 30: Keaton Moffitt #12 from South Dakota State University pushes the ball past Christian Terrell #35 from Florida Gulf Coast in the first half of their game Sunday afternoon at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls. (Photo by Dave Eggen/inertia)

Poor second half shooting doomed SDSU men’s basketball in their first game at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls.

After battling the Jackrabbits neck in neck for the first half of play that ended deadlocked at 31, the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles rode a 10-0 start to the second half to a 71-58 victory, improving to 6-1 on the year as the Jacks fell to 2-3.

“I thought our kids played hard and it’s just hard to win when you don’t shoot the ball well,” said head coach Scott Nagy. “… But I was pleased with our kids’ effort, really pleased. To me that’s the most important thing right now because I felt we hadn’t gotten our best effort up until this point.”

SDSU held its largest lead of five 12 minutes into a first half that they led the vast majority of, holding a slight edge in shooting percentage.

A transfer from Sioux Falls University, junior point guard Keaton Moffitt earned his first career start after not playing during SDSU’s first three contests and playing late minutes in the Jacks’ rout of Chadron State.

“I just was waiting for my opportunity and the coaching staff has always been just amazing to me ever since I got to this school last year,” Moffitt said. “This week they all told me they believed in me before the game.”

Moffitt finished the day with four points, five rebounds, three assists and three steals. Nagy would not commit to keeping Moffitt in the starting lineup, but did mention a need for a true point guard as the team awaits George Marshall and a quality backup once he becomes eligible.

In the end, neither Moffitt nor his teammates could get hot in the second half as the Jackrabbits went over six scoreless minutes going back into the final minute of the first half before Cody Larson finally got them on the board with a tip in.

“I thought we did a better job of not giving them easy baskets [in the second half],” said FGCU head coach Joe Dooley. “… With the exception of free throws I thought we guarded pretty well.”

From that point, SDSU managed not to sink much further, but the damage had been done. The Eagles meanwhile went on to shoot 52 percent from the field in the half and went four of five from three-point range.

The Jacks threatened to come back on several occasions, one being a Moffitt steal with seven minutes left that resulted in free throws for Jake Bittle and another coming on a Larson dunk off a turnover with three minutes left, but FGCU always had a response.

The Eagles out-rebounded the Jacks by five and had 10 offensive boards in the first half, but Nagy said the rebounding deficit could have been much worse.

“Really, as poorly as we shot the ball they should have killed us on the glass, so our effort was really good on the glass,” Nagy said. “We had 14 offensive rebounds. They had 14. They shot it better. The first half was a problem. I think that’s how they stayed in the game. Had we rebounded the ball, we could have had a pretty significant lead in the first half and could’ve felt a little bit better going in, but as poorly as we shot the ball, the rebound margin should have been a lot worse.”

Ultimately, SDSU shot just 22.6 percent in the second half and made one of 10 three-pointers.

“We’ve got to string two halves together to win basketball games,” Larson said. “We’re getting better but the efforts the thing that has to be constant and the shots are going to fall.”

Deondre Parks finished the game with 18 points. Larson joined him in double figures with his third double-double of the year, scoring 14 and pulling down 10 rebounds.

The Jackrabbits return to action on Wednesday, Dec. 3 when they host Wayne State at 7 p.m. in Frost Arena.