TWIN FALLS — On Jan. 11, the College of Southern Idaho men’s basketball team received a “wake-up call”, as head coach Jared Phay and sophomore big man Roche Grootfaam both phrased it.
The Golden Eagles weren’t asleep, per se, but they’ve realized since that they weren’t fully prepared for their toughest opponent of the season. They fell 84-64 at Salt Lake Community College for their third loss of the season.
On Saturday, they scored 63 points in the first half en route to a 114-77 Scenic West Athletic Conference win over Utah State University Eastern. The game was never close, and CSI had few nits to pick.
“I’ve been challenging the guys. ... We’re supposed to be one of the top 10 teams in the country, and we haven’t played like that at times,” Phay said. “We did everything right tonight.”
CSI was ranked No. 9 in the NJCAA Division I poll and SLCC was No. 4 when the two met on Jan. 11. The Golden Eagles lived up to their ranking in the first half, which ended with a 32-31 SLCC lead, but the Bruins pulled away in the second for an easy win.
“We didn’t just get beat, we got smacked,” Phay said. “After that game, guys were pretty emotional and pretty determined, and we’ve had great practices ever since. Hopefully, we don’t forget that loss.”
CSI handled Colorado Northwestern CC two days after the loss, and they hosted an up-and-down USU Eastern team on Saturday. But USU Eastern lost to SLCC in triple overtime on Jan. 6, so CSI knew it could fall.
The Golden Eagles, ranked No. 14 in the latest NJCAA poll, made Saturday’s game a no-doubter right away. A 17-3 run gave them a 34-15 lead with 11 minutes remaining in the half.
Jake Hendricks was the initial star, sinking all four shots he took, including three 3-pointers, in the first six minutes to give CSI a 22-12 lead.
Charles Jones Jr. scored a game-high 24 points (10-of-18 from the field), Hendricks had 13 points (4-of-8) and 11 rebounds and Tommy Burton tallied 14 points (6-of-13) and seven boards.
But Grootfaam had perhaps the most complete game, with 16 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks. He shot 5-of-7 from the field and made all six of his free throws. None of the USU Eastern post players could contain the 6-foot-8, 220-pound Utah State commit.
He also anchored a defense that held USU Eastern to a 37.1 field goal percentage in the game and a 26.7 percent mark in the first half, which CSI won 63-25.
“We knew if we came out strong and came out being aggressive, we would make USU uncomfortable,” Grootfaam said. “That happened from the start.”
The Golden Eagles (19-3, 3-1) hit the road for their next game, and it will be another tough one. They play at Snow, which battled the Golden Eagles in Twin Falls on Jan. 6. Hendricks hit a 3 in the final seconds to give CSI the win.