SHERIDAN — Appropriately, Van Halen’s hit-80s track “Jump” held the crowd on its feet during a timeout in Wednesday night’s Generals win over Western Wyoming.
In a visible release of frustration, the song followed Tate Hilgenkamp’s leaping, celebrating retreat down the sideline in the second half; his made 3-pointer was part of a 10-2 run on their comeback, 87-76, victory.
Entering a game with rival and No. 14 Gillette College (20-2, 9-0 North-Sub Region IX) Saturday, the Generals win was as important as they come. It snapped a two-game slide and helped Sheridan stay near the top of conference standings.
A late-January rowdy atmosphere during a narrow conference game is nothing out of the ordinary in college basketball, but for this year’s Generals, their out-of-the-gym talent and potential hasn’t always blossomed into crowd-lifting stretches of play.
Wednesday, things got as loud as they’ve been all year.
Rightfully so, the fans rewarded the Generals scrappy play — something their coach has pleaded for all year. Steve Smiley started five new players off the bench to begin the second half to get things going. Afterward he joked “that never works,” even though this time it did.
Trailing 38-33 at half, the subs finished as the team’s four leading scorers. They helped Sheridan take the lead with 14 minutes remaining and never look back.
“It was huge, I think it was one of the biggest games of the year,” Smiley said of the win. “You never know how you play this next game but at the same time, if you lose this game on your home floor, you’re really in trouble.
“So I was really proud of the way our guys stepped up.”
The Generals (19-5, 7-3) last three weeks have been emotionally trying after losing starter Josh Adeyeye for the season due to a broken leg.
If that wasn’t enough, while Sheridan escaped that emotional night in Miles City on a buzzer beater, they wouldn’t be so lucky in their following two, losing twice on last-second shots — a week ago in Sheridan to Central Wyoming then Saturday at Little Big Horn.
Still recovering from surgery, Adeyeye watched from behind the bench with his leg propped up on a chair Wednesday as his team got found a new groove.
Smiley knew the atmosphere was key during the win.
“Our crowd appreciates guys that really play hard,” Smiley said.
“(RaVonn) Posey, in the second half, played so hard and so aggressive it’s hard not to cheer for a guy like that.
“He really got the crowd going and we needed that,” he added.
The question of Sheridan’s success won’t be capability but effort, Smiley emphasized.
Their end-to-end, above the rim athleticism no doubt allows for stretches of play that are exciting as it gets at the JUCO level — even more, the entire roster carries that ability.
And it showed with the line change when Posey, Kyi Thomas, Bennie Lufile and Jeff Amazan all fought for second-chance points and forced turnovers, letting the air out and the noise back into the gym.
The Laramie-product Hilgenkamp’s 3 came by way of Lufile hustle-play, featuring an offensive rebound and the assist. Lufile finished with 20 points and 11 boards, while Amazan had 14, Posey, 12 and Thomas, 11.
Sheridan out-rebounded Western 38-33. The Generals shot 54 percent (30/55) from the field, better than the Mustangs 44 percent (29/65).
Smiley took a timeout during his team’s run in order to rest the current lineup, not making subs.
“We gave some guys a chance early in the second half and the boat was sinking quickly, going down five to down 10, and sometimes as a coach you’ve just got to try something,” he explained. “They did a great job.”
Depth should provide a cushion for the Generals, who are experiencing their share of late-season injuries. Starter Jamir Andrews dislocated his jaw late in the first half last night, gutting it out and playing a portion of the second half, and guard Preston Wells was banged up as well.
Smiley reiterated there’s more to it than that.
“We’ve just got to play hard,” he said. “What I told the guys was, winning is a habit and losing is a habit. We’ve had a winning program so we find ways to win. But if you lose two in a row to two teams that are well-below you in the rankings and all of a sudden you’re a little bit shocked.
Saturday’s game provides a whole new set of challenges as Sheridan hosts a Gillette team that routed them 113-88 in December.
The game was by far Sheridan’s biggest loss of the year, with their four other defeats coming by no more than five points.
Gillette has won 20 games in a row and was rewarded with the No. 14 national ranking this week. Smiley expects the Pronghorns own brand of fast and athletic play — one that’s right now clicking on all cylinders.
“Leaving it all on the floor” is a coaching cliche that likely goes in one ear and out the other of a lot of basketball players during the long grind of a season.
But hard work was what got the Sheridan College men’s basketball team back on track Wednesday night.
“I guess everything is going to be a dogfight, I wish it wasn’t,” Smiley said. “But I’ve got a lot of faith in this team. If and when the light comes on and we start playing well with all this depth we’re still going to be OK, but we’ve got to figure it out. We’re still a work in progress.
“Everyone knows we’re talented, but that’s not enough,” he continued.
“We’ve got to play with a hunger, even play a little bit scared. Not of the opponent, but you have to have a little bit of fear in you to make you play hard.
Sheridan hosts the Pronghorns at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday at the Dome.
Men’s NJCAA Basketball
North Sub-Region IX Overall
Gillette College 9-0 20-2
Casper College 7-2 14-8
Sheridan College 7-3 19-5
Miles Community College 5-5 12-11
Central Wyoming 4-5 10-11
Northwest College 4-6 14-9
Western Wyoming 3-6 9-13
Little Big Horn College 2-7 10-13
Dawson Community College 1-8 8-14
Gillette College 79, Northwest College 61
Sheridan 87, Western Wyoming 76
Casper College 92, Miles City 70