SDSU claims crown

Toby Uecker

Toby Uecker

The South Dakota State University men’s basketball team clinched a spot in the NCAA Division II playoffs with two wins this weekend in the Wells Fargo Finals North Central Conference post-season playoffs.

The Jackrabbits defeated St. Cloud State University in the semi-final round Friday night and followed up with a victory over the University of North Dakota Saturday in the conference championship.

Friday’s 91-77 win came with the help of 27 points from Austin Hansen, including five three-pointers.

Matt Jones’ 15 points on the night earned him a spot in the SDSU record book for most points scored by a freshman. With 405 points this season, Jones has garnered one more that Hansen did in 2000.

Andy Moeller added another 15 for the Jacks, and Derrick Schantz posted 11. SDSU shot 50.8 percent, 33-of-65, while St. Cloud shot 22-of-58, 37.9 percent. Forrest Witt led St. Cloud with his 21 points.

In Saturday night’s game, NCC Most Valuable Player Jerome Beasley and his team from the University of North Dakota led SDSU by four at the half.

UND held onto that lead until a 14-5 run by the Jacks, who took the lead on a three-point basket by Moeller. Hansen, the tournament MVP, then went 10-for-10 at the free-throw line in the last five minutes, helping SDSU hold on to win 100-92.

Hansen had 29 points on the evening. Moeller posted 27, and Jones had a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds. Both were named to the all-tournament team.

Chris Stoebner added 12 for the Jacks. UND’s all-tournament players, Beasley and Rob Lolar, scored 36 and 17 points, respectively.

Scott Nagy, SDSU head men’s basketball coach, was particularly pleased with the Jacks’ ability to defeat UND after losing to both UND and NDSU the previous weekend in North Dakota.

“I think that was a real wake-up call,” he said. “The players knew they had to come out fighting this weekend.”

With the NCC championship, SDSU is automatically qualified to play in the Division II playoffs beginning this weekend. The top seed in the North Central Region, the Jacks will host the regional tournament at Frost Arena Friday and Saturday.

According to Nagy, having the tournament here in Brookings is very helpful for his team, which is 15-0 at home this season. Nagy hopes that the tournament will draw students, even though it takes place at the beginning of SDSU’s spring break.

“Getting students to come is super important to us,” he said.

Being the first seed in the tournament also earns the Jacks a first round bye in the tournament, something Nagy sees as another distinct advantage.

The first and second seeds have to win two games in a row to emerge the champions, while the rest of the field must win three games in as many days, a physically daunting task.

For this reason, said Nagy, very rarely does a team without the first or second seed win the championship. In addition to the on-court success this weekend, SDSU received several honors in the naming of the NCC All-Conference team and Coach of the Year.

Hansen and Jones were both named to the All-Conference team, and Nagy received the Coach of the Year honors for the fourth time in his career. Nagy said that it is unusual to see freshman named to the all-conference team. Jones is one of two freshmen on this year’s squad and was also named

Freshman of the Year. Schantz and Moeller received honorable mention all-conference honors. Nagy is glad to have received his award, but pointed out that much of the credit goes to the team itself.

“To be coach of the year, you have to have good players,” he said. “I’m really proud of our kids.”

The Jacks will play the winner of Friday’s game between Nebraska-Omaha and Fort Lews (Colo.) on Saturday in Frost Arena.