Records shattered in tournament’s first year in Sioux Falls

Chris Mangan

Chris Mangan

Consider the first year Sioux Falls hosted the Summit League Tournament a success.

Sioux Falls, hosting the first of its two-year bid, provided a different venue and atmosphere for the teams to play in than was available the last couple of years when it was held in Tulsa. New records were set in attendance, attendance at women’s-only sessions and ad sales.

Things couldn’t have turned out better for the Summit League in terms of attendance, as both the SDSU and NDSU men and women won their first-round games and made it to March 9. The only way things could have gone better was if it was an all SDSU/NDSU final.

The championship games in each of the men’s and women’s tournaments had a Dakota school in it, which helped draw large amounts of people to Sioux Falls. It also provided a good atmosphere for the ESPN broadcast of each game.

Not everyone was happy about the considerable home-court advantage that was available for the teams from the Dakotas.

“Oakland has been the No. 1 seed five out of last six times, and we’re constantly going to the other teams’ courts,” Oakland women’s head coach Beckie Francis said. “Sometimes you wish you could go to a neutral place.”

Sioux Falls was also able to win over some people that hadn’t been to the area before. Oral Roberts’ women’s head coach, Jerry Finkbeiner, was signing praises of the community after the first game of the tournament.

“Sioux Falls, really excellent job of putting on a tournament,” he said. “We toured your city yesterday. I’ve never been to Sioux Falls; I’m really impressed. It is just not a politically correct statement for the losing coach, but (I’m) very impressed with the city and the things you offer our athletes and the people traveling here. Thanks for the nice weather yesterday on top of that; it was really good.”

But the reason people came to Sioux Falls was for the basketball, and the Summit League was able to prove many doubters, who questioned the level of play, wrong.

Several of the games were close; four of the women’s games and five of the men’s games were decided by 10 points or less. The fans also witnessed a classic men’s championship game that saw NDSU come from 14 points down to defeat Oakland on a Ben Woodside jumper with just over two seconds left.

Sure, there were some minor hitches. Women’s head basketball coach Aaron Johnston talked about the trouble of warming up with fans around them, but for most of the tournament, things went exactly as they were supposed to.