Jacks advance behind Miller’s double-double

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Jacks advance behind Miller’s double-double

Photo by: Miranda Sampson

Photo by: Miranda Sampson

Photo by: Miranda Sampson

Photo by: Miranda Sampson

Landon Dierks, Sports Reporter

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SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Saturday’s matchup between South Dakota State and Quinnipiac was a meeting of two of the top mid-major programs and hottest teams in the country — and it played out that way.

The Jackrabbits survived a late-game run by the Bobcats to win 76-65 and advanced to play Syracuse in the second round Monday.

“We are really fortunate and excited to play again,” SDSU head coach Aaron Johnston said. “That’s a special thing. Winning in the NCAA Tournament is hard. We’ve been on both sides of that, so we’re really appreciative of the fact we get to play again on Monday.”

Quinnipiac (26-7) came in as the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference champions and winners of 21 games in a row. SDSU (27-6) owned a 16-game win streak of its own as Summit League champions.

One had to fall in their first game of the national tournament.

It was the Jackrabbits’ offensive success against the second stingiest defense in women’s college basketball — especially in the first half — that proved to be the difference.

Quinnipiac came into Saturday giving up only 50.5 points per game on the season but allowed a season-high in points with its season on the line.

Early on, both teams traded baskets while the game had periods with uninterrupted action. The first quarter media timeout didn’t come until only 1:54 remained in the opening frame and SDSU held a 17-15 lead which it would extend to 22-18 by quarter’s end.

Midway through the second quarter, senior Macy Miller found sophomore Tylee Irwin for a fastbreak layup that put the Jacks up 10. Moments later, senior Madison Guebert hit a 3-pointer from the left wing to give the Jacks a 39-25 advantage — their largest of the opening half.

“I think coming out in the first quarter you probably had those first-game jitters,” Miller said. “I thought we did a great job of settling in … and that spurt (in the second quarter) really helped us get going.”

SDSU led 41-30 at halftime, led by Miller’s 12 points and six rebounds with sophomore Myah Selland and Guebert each chipping in eight points.

Quinnipiac had a trio of its own carry the offensive load in the opening 20 minutes. Paula Strautmane made two 3-pointers as part of her 10 points as Jen Fay and Aryn McClure added seven points apiece.

SDSU was simply able to find more production from the supporting cast and looked poised to pull away in the second half as it has in many contests this season.

But Fay wouldn’t let the Bobcats go down easily.

Coming out of halftime, Fay took over on the offensive end of the floor. The Bobcats’ leading scorer came into the game averaging just over 12 points per game. Fay managed to score 12 of her team-high 25 points in the third quarter to keep her team close.

Fay’s offense combined with intensified defensive pressure cut the SDSU lead to 58-51 entering the fourth quarter.

“They really ramped up their defense,” said Guebert, who finished with 11 points. “We were out of our flow for a little bit there. It was a combination of them being a strong, solid defensive team we knew that they were and we got flustered a little bit.”

The Bobcat run would continue into the final 10 minutes.

A Fay jump shot brought Quinnipiac to within three points with three minutes to play, but Miller sank a 3-pointer 90 seconds later to push the score to 69-61.

With the score at 69-64, Irwin corralled an offensive rebound. With the shot clock reset, Fay was forced to commit her fifth personal foul to stop the clock with 45.3 seconds remaining, sending her to the bench and sending Miller to the free throw line.

“To get two really key [rebounds] down the stretch was super important,” Selland said. “I think it was something we had worked at the whole game and it paid off down the stretch.”

Clutch free throw shooting took over from there as the Jacks closed out the win making seven of their eight fouls shots in the final minute.

Miller finished with a game-high 28 points on 18 attempts and added 11 rebounds.

“It feels really great [to advance]” Miller said. “Give credit to Quinnipiac. They have a great defense. It almost felt like they had 10 people out there … but a W[in] is a W[in] and we’re excited to move on.”

Opening tip time for Monday’s game between SDSU and Syracuse is yet to be determined at the time of publication.