Wednesday's return to Harold Newman Arena wasn't perfect for University of Jamestown men's basketball, but a bigger win couldn't have come at a better time.
The Jimmies daggered a two-game conference losing streak with a physical 74-66 upset victory over the 11th-ranked Dakota Wesleyan University Tigers.
The Jimmies soared to No. 3 in the Great Plains Athletic Conference standings at 9-4 with seven to play, which includes a massive date at top-of-the-table Morningside next Wednesday in Sioux City, Iowa.
"Huge," said UJ senior forward Jack Talley, who flirted with a double-double against the Tigers with 13 points and eight rebounds. "Obviously, the road was a tough trip, but coach has been telling us, be aggressive, be confident, and we all believed in each other the whole time.'
"Tonight we just said, hey, we're gonna go out and play basketball and just hoop, and that's what we did."
The Jimmies were looking for someone, or something, to jumpstart an offense that had dropped nearly 25 points on average over UJ's recent 1-2 road trip, and Talley did his part. He teamed up with sophomore Marc Kjos for back-to-back 3-pointers during an 8-0 UJ run to start the second half, which opened some much-needed breathing room for the Jimmies at 38-29 after leading 30-29 at the half.
An old-fashioned 3-point play converted by Mason Walters at the foul line eventually pushed the advantage to double digits at 63-53 with seven minutes remaining, as UJ converted 16 of 28 from the field for 57% in the second half.
The 6-foot-9 Walters had defenders draped all over him throughout the contest, but after converting just 1 of 6 from the field in the first half, Walters still managed a fine 16 points and 10 rebounds.
"Just trying to play through it," said Walters, who wasn't sporting any visible black-and-blue marks suffered in UJ's last three games. "I'm kinda used to it now; I've been dealing with it for a couple of games. But I'm just trusting my teammates. When they're open I'm hitting them, but when I feel I have a mismatch, (I) take them to the basket.
"Just trying to stay collected, get a good shot."
Both teams shot less than 40% in a slug-it-out defensive first half, with neither team leading by more than four. Senior transfer guard Allante' Pickens produced a punch off the bench offensively, burying his first of a pair of 3-pointers and scoring five during a 7-2 spurt that put UJ up by one at the half. Pickens scored 12 in the game and led UJ in assists with two in 22 minutes.
But the defense was key all night for the home team, holding the Tigers (14-4, 10-3 GPAC) -- who have now lost three of their last four -- to nearly 10 points less than their season average.
"I think the biggest thing was we defended and we played with just more energy than we had been the past few games," said UJ men's basketball coach Danny Neville. "To be honest, it's nice to be home. We've been on the road for two straight weeks and with a young team, I mean, it gets to be a long two weeks.
"Good crowd, too."
UJ's offense after the break was fueled defensively. The Jimmies forced three turnovers on Dakota Wesleyan's first three possessions of the second half during the game-changing 8-0 run.
Dakota Wesleyan never let the game get out of hand, but that didn't seem realistic anyway hosting a team that at one point this season won 13 straight. Ace Zorr scored both a game-high and career-high 20 points for the Tigers.
"We turned it over 15 times and that's not gonna work," said Dakota Wesleyan coach Matt Wilbur. "Any sport you're involved in, turnovers lead to points for the other team and they were very opportunistic. Their field goal percentage in the second half was really good, and a lot of that was Mason Walters played really well in the second half and made some really big plays.
"We just couldn't get a stop when we needed to, but offensively we couldn't get the buckets we needed."
Talley has now reached double-digit scoring in three consecutive games after averaging nearly 17 points and eight rebounds per contest during his all-conference junior year. Working himself back into condition twice this season -- first having fought off COVID-19 prior to competition before rehabbing an ankle injury that kept him sidelined for five games before Christmas -- Talley is now averaging close to eight points after making his seventh start.
Talley's offensive struggles were still present, as he converted just 6 of 17 from the field, but the Jimmies will need the senior's shots and stats down the stretch to accomplish a potential run at the GPAC crown. He scored UJ's first four points Wednesday and his 3-pointer during the early second-half barrage was vintage.
"Somebody was gonna hit that shot and it just happened to be me," Talley said. "The clock was winding down, our motion -- it was moving a little bit -- and I just happened to be the guy that was open. I know that my teammates had confidence in me, so that helped."
UJ's confidence, in general, received a major boost. Senior forward Brady Birch turned in 10 points, while Kjos finished scoring eight.
The Jimmies (13-5, 9-4) host Mount Marty (7-13, 4-11) on Saturday at 2 p.m. UJ lost in the final possession to the Lancers, 80-79, on Dec. 5 in Yankton, South Dakota.
"We really talked about taking pride on defense and kinda getting back to playing Jimmie basketball," Walters said. "We kinda got -- I mean, not lazy -- but we weren't playing as hard as we wanted to be playing and the last couple games it kinda showed.
"Glad to be back and pick our intensity up."
(RV) University of Jamestown 74, (11) Dakota Wesleyan University 66
DW 29 37 -- 66
UJ 30 44 -- 74
DW -- Ace Zorr 20, Sawyer Schultz 15, Nick Harden 10, Koln Oppold 8, Mason Larson 7, Jeffrey Schuch 6. Totals: 25-61 FG, 5-16 3-pointers (Schultz 3, Zorr, Larson), 11-15 FT, 41 Rebounds (Larson 7), 18 Fouls, 8 Assists (Oppold 4), 15 Turnovers, 3 Blocks (Larson 3), 6 Steals (Schuch 2, Zorr 2).
UJ -- Mason Walters 16, Jack Talley 13, Allante' Pickens 12, Brady Birch 10, Marc Kjos 8, Will Cordes 7, Brock Schrom 4, Cole Woodford 3, Devan Praska 1. Totals: 28-59 FG, 6-17 3-pointers (Kjos 2, Pickens 2, Talley, Woodford), 12-18 FT, 31 Rebounds (Walters 10, Talley 8), 17 Fouls, 5 Assists (Pickens 2), 9 Turnovers, 4 Blocks (Schrom 2), 4 Steals (4 with 1).
Records: Jamestown 13-5, 9-4 GPAC. Dakota Wesleyan 14-4, 10-3.