Trailing by five points with 21 seconds to play, the Jacks needed everything to go in their favor for them to pull of the miracle. And it happened.
The SDSU men’s basketball team travelled to the University of Denver after having lost their last three games. Meanwhile, Denver boasted a 3-2 conference record, entering Thursday’s game having won their last three games. A loss for the Jacks would have left the Jacks tied for seventh in the conference, but a win meant a three-way tie for third.
The Jacks lead by as many as five points in the first half that was notably marked by the inability of Jordan Dykstra to score a basket as he went 0-1 on the half. His offensive ineffectiveness, along with mistakes across the board, left the Jacks trailing by 33-28 going into the locker room.
“You can’t believe the number of mistakes we made in the first half,” head coach Scott Nagy said. “I was so upset at halftime, just about the simple mistakes that we were making. And a lot of it was our very experienced players.”
For a majority of the second half, the Jacks still trailed by roughly five points. They would close the gap to a possession only to watch Denver rebuild their lead. With 5:07 to play, Chad White’s three-pointer tied the game at 60. From there on, a battle ensued with neither team giving an inch.
Denver appeared to pull the game away from the Jacks when they used a 5-0 run to reestablish a 71-66 lead with only 36 seconds left. After White missed a three with 23 seconds left, even an offensive rebound didn’t appear to give the Jacks much of a chance. But then, the magic happened.
Dykstra, the man who had been silent during the first half, hit a contested three-pointer to cut the Denver lead to two points.
“I just kind of threw up there and hoped it went in,” Dykstra said. “Really that’s just a lucky shot.”
With only 17 seconds remaining, the Jacks needed to deny the inbounds pass, make a quick steal or foul, and hope for missed free throws. Pioneer inbounder, Jalen Love, searched for an open man but ultimately heaved a lob pass to mid court where it is intercepted Larson. From there, the ball found its way into the hands of Dykstra on the wing, who buried a three-pointer to give the Jacks the lead.
“Cody took it, made a great hustle play, kicked it over to me,” Dykstra said. “I had it over on the wing and I love the wing shot so I just put it up.”
Fourteen seconds still remained for Denver to answer, but they turn it over with eight seconds remaining. Dykstra receives the inbounds pass and after being fouled, makes a pair of free throws to extend his free throw streak to 26.
“At the end of the game, I pride myself on trying to close games,” Dykstra said. “The guys, they played their butts off and they tried to get me the ball and they know I’m going hit those free throws.”
Not allowing the game to end quietly, Bryant Rucker launched a last-second shot which dropped. There was just one catch for the Pioneers – his foot was on the line. The Jacks pulled off the victory 74-73.
“I’ve had a couple crazy finishes,” Nagy said. “I mean I’ve obviously coached a lot of games, but this one certainly ranks probably up there in the top five of just great comeback victories – looks like you’re not going to win the game and then somehow you pull it out. I’m proud of the kids.”
Thanks to a contribution of 14 points in the final three minutes of play, Dykstra led the team in scoring with 18 points. Larson finished with 17 points to go along with nine rebounds. White scores 13 for the Jacks and Jake Bittle also finds himself in double figures with 10. The key stat of the game proved to be offensive rebounds where the Jacks held a 12-2 advantage in the game.
“I haven’t seen us offensive rebound like that in a long time,” Nagy said. “But it was exciting. It was fun to watch, fun to watch our kids fly around again.”