Champs again: SDSU downs USD

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Champs again: SDSU downs USD

Landon Dierks, Sports Reporter

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Macy Miller became the all-time leading scorer in Summit League history and led South Dakota State to its ninth title in 11 seasons with a 83-71 win over South Dakota.

If anyone thought South Dakota State (26-6) or South Dakota (28-6) weren’t going to go all-out for the Summit League tournament title because both are virtual locks for the NCAA Tournament — think again.

Fans of both schools were treated to three total overtimes across the two regular-season meetings, so the expectation was another competitive game to decide the conference champion. That was what the crowd inside the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center got — to an extent.

Both teams fought hard for the conference title all afternoon, but it was the Jackrabbits who landed more punches and the scoreboard reflected it.

Led by the efforts of seniors Macy Miller and Madison Guebert, SDSU’s lockdown defense and efficient offense helped to pull away in the second and third quarters and hold on for a win.

“We came here to win this game and this tournament,” SDSU junior Tagyn Larson said. “We knew there was the possibility that if we did lose we’d still maybe get in [to the Big Dance], but we didn’t want to get in that way. We got in the right way.”

And the Jacks punched their ticket in style, though the back-to-back title run wasn’t always a certainty.

USD led 17-15 after the first quarter and built the lead to 32-23 following a pair of free throws from sophomore Chloe Lamb, who scored eight of her 14 points from the free-throw line.

The difference from the first two contests was USD doing most of its work without the services of junior Ciara Duffy, the team’s leading scorer.

Duffy went down with an ankle injury early on and was limited to four points on three shots in just 15 minutes of action — a far cry from her 15.1 points per game average.

“It’s tough to see any player go down,” SDSU coach Aaron Johnston said. “… It’s something nobody wants to see… Does it change the game? It’s hard to think that it doesn’t.”

In Duffy’s absence, USD relied heavily on its sole senior, Allison Arens. She responded, scoring 26 points to lead the Coyotes and grabbing seven rebounds.

Then, midway through the second quarter, the Jacks made a run worthy of a tournament champion. Trailing by nine and with four players playing with two personal fouls, SDSU went on a 22-2 run, silencing those in red and bringing the contingent of Jackrabbit fans to full throat.

 

“I think what kind of got us was they switched up their defense a lot,” Arens said. “They switched to zone and it took us out of our rotation. I think early we were able to get it in and drive on them and I thought we were really tough to guard. Then they went into the zone and we just didn’t quite get the looks and our shots weren’t quite falling.”

USD scored the last four points of the half courtesy of two layups from sophomore Hannah Sjerven but trailed 45-38 heading into the locker room with momentum clearly on SDSU’s side.

The early moments of the second half didn’t provide many positives for the Coyotes, who failed to stop SDSU from building on the second-quarter explosion.

SDSU pushed the lead to 54-40 on a layup by Guebert three minutes into the second half, but the offensive onslaught against the conference’s best defense didn’t stop there. SDSU slowly continued to grow the lead and keep the ‘Yotes from making a run.

A Miller 3-pointer gave SDSU a 19-point lead with 6:31 left in the contest, an advantage tied for the Jacks’ largest of the game. Miller added two more free throws before the final buzzer, giving her a game-high 30 points to go along with 11 rebounds (also a game-high).

“What I’m so proud of is how this team kept its composure,” Guebert, who scored 22 points, said. “No one panicked and there was never any negativity… it’s what pushed us forward. And we had people making some big shots to really give us an extra push.”

Even down big late in the game, USD never quit or lost enthusiasm for the competition. In fact, the ‘Yotes would make a final, furious push, cutting the lead to eight with 1:15 left, but SDSU went 7-for-8 from the free throw line in the closing moments to put the game away.

Even with the loss, the expectation is that USD will make the NCAA Tournament as an at-large team.

“I certainly do believe [our tournament resume] is there,” USD coach Dawn Plitzuweit said. “With the quality of the nonconference schedule that we played, with wins over Missouri, Iowa State and Green Bay — all outstanding basketball teams.”

The Summit League has never had two member schools in the same NCAA Tournament, history would be made if the ‘Yotes hear their name when brackets are announced, according to GoJacks.com.

For now, the Jacks can rest easy knowing their spot in the tournament field is locked up. The tournament field will be revealed on Monday, March 18.

“It’s just a great day for our South Dakota State women’s basketball program,” Johnston said.