Jacks dominate WIU, claim Summit League crown

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Jacks dominate WIU, claim Summit League crown

Landon Dierks, Reporter

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Last weekend’s overtime win against rival South Dakota put South Dakota State women’s basketball in position to do what it has been unable to for the past five years.

With a 100-62 win over Western Illinois, the Jackrabbits claimed their first regular season Summit League title since 2013-14 and locked up the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament.

Saturday also marked senior day for SDSU — the last opportunity for Macy Miller, Madison Guebert and Sydney Palmer to play in front of the home crowd.

“Madi, Macy and Sydney had exceptional careers so far and an exceptional senior day to be able to clinch an outright championship on that day is doubly special for them.” SDSU coach Aaron Johnston said. “It was a goal and something they really wanted to be a part of.”

It was an afternoon dedicated to honoring the senior class, but the storyline belonged to SDSU sophomore Tylee Irwin early on.

Irwin scored 14 points and grabbed three rebounds in the opening quarter and with the help of junior Tagyn Larson’s nine points, SDSU built a 34-17 advantage in the opening period.

Larson and Irwin each finished with 17 points, and Irwin added 12 rebounds for her first career double-double.

“Tylee and Tagyn are playing as well as anyone in our league right now,” Johnston said. “It’s great to see.”

With Irwin and Larson handling a bulk of the load early, seniors Macy Miller and Madison Guebert didn’t have to do much.

The pair didn’t score and had one shot attempt in the opening 10 minutes.

“I think that shows what kind of team we are,” Palmer said. “We have two amazing players, Madi and Macy are phenomenal … but Tagyn has been playing well and Tylee’s been playing well, too. It’s just good to see them step up.”

Despite the slow start in the first quarter, Miller wouldn’t stay quiet for long.

She put up 10 of SDSU’s first 12 points in the second quarter. Her efforts helped push the Jackrabbit lead to as much as 26 in the quarter and SDSU led 54-31 at halftime.

The break didn’t break Miller’s rhythm.

She scored 14 more points in the third quarter as SDSU added two more points to its halftime advantage and dispelled any thoughts of a Leatherneck comeback.

All the seniors went out on a high note — each reached double figures in their final collegiate home game. Palmer notched 11 points on 5-of-5 shooting and Guebert added 10 to go along with Miller’s game-high 24 points in the conference-clinching win.

“I didn’t think I was going to get emotional,” Miller said. “It really means a lot because it’s something we’ve never done before.”

SDSU had a significant size advantage over WIU. All five Fighting Leathernecks starters are 5-foot-10 or shorter. The Jacks start three 6-foot or taller.

This size disparity played a major part in the win.

SDSU scored nearly as many points in the paint (56) as WIU did for the game (62).

With the regular season behind them, the Jackrabbits can now shift focus to next weekend’s Summit League tournament.

A lot rides on the conference tournament outcome — winning means automatic qualification for the NCAA Tournament, but Johnston thinks the regular season title is equally meaningful.

“The conference tournament has gotten to be such a big thing, and it is for most mid-majors because that’s the vehicle to get you to the NCAA Tournament,” Johnston said. “It’s easy for the conference tournament to overshadow everything, but we’ve always tried to look at both equally. I don’t know why we’d play so many games all year if it didn’t have value.”

The Jacks will play Purdue Fort Wayne in the first-round at 12 p.m., Saturday, March 9 from the Denny Sanford Premier Center in Sioux Falls.