Arizona men's basketball rebounds from tough first half against South Dakota State

Arizona Wildcats defeat the South Dakota State Jackrabbits 71-64. At half, the Wildcats were trailing by three, but with the help of the Zona Zoo, the Wildcats continued their five game winning streak. 

Despite a bad shooting night for Arizona men’s basketball, the team was able to pull away enough at the end and beat South Dakota State by a final score of 71-64.

It was a slow start for Arizona, as they went down by double-digits early in the first half. Ten points is now the largest deficit the team has faced all season and it was the first time all year they were trailing at halftime. 

“[South Dakota State] played against a team that wasn't very smart tonight,” Arizona Head Coach Sean Miller said. "And that was our team."

A big piece of the first half issues were because Zeke Nnaji got into foul trouble early. The freshman picked up his second foul very early in the first half and was forced to sit out for most of the half. He also didn’t attempt a field goal in the first half even though he made 17 field goals in a row coming into the game and averaged 21 points per game. Despite struggling from the field and being in foul trouble, Nnaji ended up having 12 points after fouling out with 3:10 remaining in the game.

“We were very fortunate to win,” Miller said. "We have a player [Nnaji] who leads the nation in field goals. When you have a player who leads the nation in anything, he's very good."

Nico Mannion kept proving why he is one of the top point guards in the country despite the team struggling. Mannion ended up finishing with 14 points and was 2-for-5 from the three-point line. Josh Green struggled from three but did everything else right and eventually finished with 15 points to lead the team in scoring. 

“This game just goes to show that anybody can play with anybody at this level,” Mannion said. "They were gritty and came out and we were down 12 (they were actually only down 10) at one point in the first half and it just goes to show a game is a game."

Arizona did have scoring from pretty much everyone else, though. Eight players scored in the first half alone. But it was turnovers and rebounds where Arizona really struggled. The Wildcats had 12 turnovers in the first half and got outrebounded 17-12 at halftime but ended up winning 32-20.

After Arizona took the lead back at the 14:28 mark of the second half, they never looked back. SDSU managed to keep the game close and stayed within striking distance. But ultimately, it was Green and Mannion who kept making tough shots and made their free throws to seal the victory for Arizona. It was Mannion’s dunk with just over a minute left that put the finishing touches on his night. 

Arizona will be back at the McKale Center on Sunday, Nov. 24, to host Long Beach State at 6:30 p.m.


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