Kaleb Center, Sports Information Director
CHADRON – Led by senior guard CJ Jennings’ 32 points, the Chadron State College men’s basketball team rallied from down 10 in the first half on Saturday against the Western Colorado Mountaineers. After giving up 49 first-half points, the Eagles held their opponent to 35 on 34.5 percent shooting, in the second half, to improve to 5-5 overall, and 1-1 in Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference play.
The Eagles, in only 10 games, matched the five win total they achieved last season over 13 contests. They’ve also defeated Western Colorado in Chadron in six of the last seven attempts.
Jennings’ 32 points is second, only to Brian Rodriguez-Flores’ 35 against CSU-Pueblo in 2019-20, for single-game scoring by a CSC player in the Chicoine Center. He tied the mark which Teddy Parham, Jr., recorded against South Dakota Mines last season.
Sophomore guard Matthew Ragsdale scored the first two buckets of the game, en route to a 7-2 Mountaineers lead, before a three-pointer from Jennings knotted it at seven apiece at 16:33.
WCU junior guard Cole Sienknecht quickly answered, on the ensuing possession, with a trey of his own, and the visitors held onto a single-digit lead for another eight minutes until a three by senior forward Will Willis took the Mountaineers’ lead to 34-24 at 8:16.
The Eagles continued to play from behind, and they went into halftime down 49-41, despite shooting a solid 57.1 percent from the floor in the first half. Western shot an even 60 percent.
The story changed in the second half, when CSC started with a 28-10 run taking 11 minutes off the clock. The lead changed for the first time at 14:11 on a Jennings layup, making it 52-50 Eagles, and the run peaked at 8:53 with CSC up 67-57 following a bucket by junior guard KJ Harris. The lone field goal from Western during that stretch was a three by Ragsdale.
CSC remained comfortably in the lead until things got interesting with under a minute to play. Ragsdale completed a three-point “and-one” play, and sophomore guard Jaelan McCloud cut it to 84-82 with a standard three-pointer at 0:37.
It was 86-84 CSC with 24 seconds remaining, but CSC junior guard Marcus Jefferson, Harris and Jennings combined for 6-of-6 from the free throw line inside of 35 seconds, and Jennings picked up a loose ball to seal the 90-84 win for the Eagles.
Chadron State played “small ball” for the majority of the game, with several frontcourt players out with injuries. Freshman Beau Bragg and sophomore Taj Toney were the only forwards who entered, combining for 30 minutes total. Six guards shot 27-for-50 for a 54 percent night from the floor.
The Eagles, who were in firm control of No. 1 in the RMAC for three-pointers made in 2021-22, with 10.4 treys per game, only fired 11 attempts from long range on Saturday, hitting five. Rather, CSC went into the paint far more often, getting 52 of their points there, versus 34 for the opponent.
The Mountaineers were credited with 16 unforced turnovers, compared with six for CSC, leading to a 19-16 Eagles advantage in points off lost balls.
Jennings also finished as the game’s leading rebounder with nine, and shot 12-of-19 from the floor, 3-of-4 from three, and hit all five foul shots.
Three other Eagles finished in double digits. Jefferson had 19 points, seven rebounds, and four assists. Parham finished at 17 points, five boards, and a game-high six assists. Harris was next with 13 points and four rebounds.
CSC held Ragsdale, who was stellar in last Saturday’s 38-point performance against an NAIA opponent from Texas, to a team-high 23 points. Willis added 17 and McCloud had 11.
The Mountaineers’ leading rebounder was sophomore forward Jordan Veening, with six.
Western fell to 1-7 (0-2 RMAC) in the loss.
Chadron State makes one of its longest road trips of the year next weekend, traveling to Westminster in Salt Lake City, and Colorado Mesa in Grand Junction, Colorado. Both teams were winners on the road Saturday in their RMAC openers in Denver.