Owls eliminated from A-Sun contention after close loss

by Chris Raimondi

With less than 10 seconds left in regulation, KSU men’s basketball team was unable to make the game-winning shot as they fell to the Jacksonville Dolphins 71-69 Thursday night in the Convocation Center.

Nate Rucker led the Owls with 17 points, but foul trouble kept him sidelined for most of the second half, taking away KSU’s inside presence. The Owls overcame a 17 point deficit, but 15 first-half turnovers proved to be too costly.

“That’s a tough one,” said KSU interim head coach Jimmy Lallathin. “I don’t think we made decisions conducive with who we are.”

A flat start saw KSU down 10-0 after the first six minutes of the game. The Owls didn’t score until the 13:24 mark of the first half by way of a Nate Rucker layup. Rucker would provide the only spark offensively for KSU as he scored eight of the Owls’ first nine points. The junior forward finished the game with 17 points and six rebounds with 13 and five coming in the first half.

After 12 turnovers in the first 12 minutes, combined with 21 percent shooting, the Owls found themselves down by 13 at the 7:57 mark with the score 22-9. Rucker again stepped up for the owls with five straight points inside of five minutes left in the half. Nigel Pruitt displayed one of the best hustle-plays of the season by earning and and-one opportunity after stealing the ball after a turnover of his own. Pruitt would convert the old-fashioned 3-point play and bring the game within eight. Pruitt finished with 11 points and five rebounds.

Both teams traded baskets with less than one minute remaining in the half and the Dolphins would head into the locker room up by eight at 35-27.

The Dolphins held a double-digit lead as late as 8:56 left in regulation before an Orlando Coleman 3-pointer made it just a nine point game. The Owls found life after a Pruitt steal led to a fast break dunk by Coleman that made it a seven point game just a tick under the eight minute mark. Coleman flirted with a double-double, finishing with nine points and nine rebounds.

Jacksonville would storm back and extend their lead to double-digits again after a Jarvis Haywood jumper made it 64-53 with 5:42 to go. The Owls would then go on a 9-0 run, holding the Dolphins scoreless until the 1:30 mark. After another Coleman fast break dunk brought the game within two at 64-62, the Dolphins made a pair of free throws to make it a two possession game again.

The Dolphins led by four when Delbert Love made a 3-pointer with 12 second to go which made it 70-69. KSU fouled on Jacksonville’s next possession and caught a break as Keith McDougald on converted one of his free throws. Coleman attempted the game-winning 3-pointer with three seconds left but missed it off of the right side of the rim. Jacksonville grabbed the rebound and the game with it, as the left Kennesaw with the 71-69 victory.

“They’re young kids and they’re giving you everything they’ve got,” Lallathin said. “They’ve been giving me everything they’ve got since I’ve started this spot. I’m proud of the steps we’ve made and we’ll continue to make on Saturday and to carry over to next year because we continue to play hard.”

The Owls were officially eliminated from attending the A-Sun conference tournament with the loss and fell to 3-14 in the conference and 6-24 overall. KSU hosts North Florida on Saturday March 2 in the final game of the season.