Jacks earn trip to Summit League Finals

Landon Dierks, Sports Reporter

Methodical. Determined. Dominant.

Any of these could be used to describe South Dakota State’s 86-55 romp over Oral Roberts in the Summit League women’s semifinals Monday afternoon at the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center.

“Congratulations to [SDSU coach] Aaron [Johnston] and the outstanding team that he’s got. They played beautiful basketball today,” ORU coach Misti Cussen said in her press conference opening statement.

Cussen was right.

SDSU played exceedingly well all afternoon, but this game had a much different outcome than either of the first two meetings this season.

ORU proved to be one of the few teams in the conference capable of playing with the Jackrabbits, being one of only two Summit teams (South Dakota is the other) to play SDSU within single digits during the regular season.

That wasn’t the case the third time around.

“I was really looking forward to us getting into sync just to play some good basketball here in Sioux Falls,” Cussen said. “But I thought a huge part of why we didn’t today was Aaron had his girls ready to go at both ends of the floor. They did a great job defensively and obviously shot the ball extremely well too.”

SDSU’s defensive scheme bothered the Golden Eagles throughout the game, holding them to a 28.8 shooting percentage.

“I think we defended them probably better than we have in the past two games,” Johnston said. “We did a nice job on both their perimeter players, switched some matchups and I think that was a better fit looking at this game.”

A key element of that defense was the effort against ORU’s Lakota Beatty, who scored 25 points and hit seven 3-pointers in the Golden Eagles’ quarterfinal game against Western Illinois. The Jacks held Beatty to seven points and only six shot attempts Monday afternoon.

“We knew she was a shooter,” senior Macy Miller said. “She had a great game yesterday and throughout the season, so we knew we had to get up on her and make her take tough shots.”

The Golden Eagles struggled to keep SDSU contained down low, allowing 44 points in the paint. Of those points, 30 came in the first half — more than ORU scored as a team heading into the locker room (29).

Alongside the defensive performance, the Jacks’ offense made 55.4 percent of their shots and systematically picked apart ORU’s defense.

As it did Saturday against Purdue Fort Wayne, SDSU jumped out to an early lead.

In a start eerily similar to Saturday’s quarterfinal, senior Madison Guebert hit a 3-pointer seven seconds after the opening tip. It was only a three-point lead with nearly all 40 minutes still remaining, but it didn’t matter.

SDSU never relinquished the lead, holding the advantage over a Golden Eagles for all but those seven seconds.

In fact, ORU would only bring the score to within three points twice more — the last time with 5:30 left in the first quarter.

The rout was on with more than 30 minutes to play.

For the second straight game, sophomore Myah Selland got out to a hot start. In just her second game back after missing the regular season finale with a foot injury, Selland led SDSU with 13 points in the opening half.

Supplemented by a steady dose of Miller, the Jacks built a lead as big as 24 points in the first 20 minutes and led 47-29 at halftime.

Early in the third quarter, ORU briefly cut the lead from 20 points to 16 and looked to get back into the game.

That was before a 14-0 Jackrabbit run slammed the door on any potential comeback.

Even SDSU’s bench could do no wrong. When Aaron Johnston emptied his bench in the fourth quarter, the Jacks shoot 8-of-9 from the field and scored 21 points.

Miller led all scorers for the game with 18 points and was one of five Jacks to reach double figures. Junior Tagyn Larson also had a standout performance. She who scored 15 points on 7-for-7 shooting to go along with a team-high eight rebounds.

Joining Miller and Larson with double-digit scoring efforts were Selland (13), sophomore Tylee Irwin (11) and redshirt freshman Lindsey Theuninck (10).

The win improved Johnston’s career Summit League Tournament record to 27-2 and puts SDSU in the conference title game for the ninth time in 11 years.

South Dakota State has walked away as victors each of the past eight times and will look to make it nine against the winner of the other semifinal between South Dakota and North Dakota.

“We’re excited to play in the championship game — we absolutely are,” Johnston said when asked about a potential third matchup with rival USD. “North Dakota, as a new team in this league, if they get that chance they’ll be fired up. If USD wins, I’m sure they’ll be fired up too.”