Jacks advance to first Sweet 16 in program history

Landon Dierks, Sports Reporter

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Third time’s the charm.

After falling just short of the Sweet 16 in two previous trips to the second round, South Dakota State used a late surge to power past Syracuse 75-64 Monday night and make program history.

“To be honest, I’m on cloud nine right now,” said SDSU senior guard Macy Miller, who scored 11 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for her second straight tournament double-double. “I haven’t even had time to think about the game.”

Syracuse came into the tournament as the third seed in the Portland region and ranked No. 12 in the AP poll, so falling to SDSU at home would be considered an upset to many. But it wasn’t to Syracuse head coach Quentin Hillsman.

“I don’t view this as an upset because I think they’re a very good basketball team and they are very worthy,” Hillsman said.

The second round matchup between the 6th-seeded Jackrabbits (28-6) and the 3rd-seeded Orange (25-9) was billed as an offensive showdown, with two top-20 scoring offenses going head-to-head. SDSU came in averaging 79.9 points per game with Syracuse close behind at an average of 77.6, good for 12th and 19th in the country, respectively.

Monday’s outcome was likely to come down which team made more defensive stops — and it did.

After both teams shot better than 50 percent from the field in the first half, SDSU’s defense managed to lock down Syracuse during the final 20 minutes. The Jacks held the home team to 31.4 percent shooting over the final 20 minutes while converting on 41.9 percent of its own attempts.

“It was tough,” said Syracuse guard Tiana Mangakahia, who led the Orange with 18 points and eight assists. “… We, as players, just have to do better in that zone [defense] we play. We’ve been running it all season and I guess we didn’t run it to its full potential. And on the back end, we couldn’t score — shots weren’t dropping.”

Mangakahia helped the Orange get out to a hot start. She accounted for 10 of the first 12 points for her team, scoring four and recording three assists before the first media timeout.

Leading 17-14, the SDSU offense sputtered in the closing minutes of the opening quarter, those offensive struggles continued. The Orange put together separate runs of 14-3 and 12-4 to open up an advantage as large as 12 with 5:08 remaining before halftime.

SDSU would make a run before halftime, shrinking the margin from a dozen to two points heading into the locker room.

Following the third quarter media timeout, the Jacks went on a timely run.

Senior guard Madison Guebert hit a straight-on 3 to tie the game with 4:16 left in the third quarter. Seconds later, freshman Paiton Burckhard grabbed an offensive rebound and made the putback layup to give SDSU its first lead since the first quarter at 47-45, but the run wasn’t over.

Guebert, who scored a game-high 20 points, and fellow senior Sydney Palmer hit back-to-back 3-pointers to cap a 13-0 spurt. The Jacks went into the fourth quarter with a 53-47 lead and were 10 minutes from the first bid to the Sweet 16 in program history.

That slight advantage didn’t last long.

Syracuse’s full-court press, which SDSU had done well to handle for most of the evening, picked up the intensity, forcing three consecutive turnovers which resulted in the Orange regaining the lead just 90 seconds into the fourth quarter.

As it was all evening, the closing moments were back-and-forth. In the end, the score was tied on nine occasions and the lead changed hands 10 times — the final time when Guebert hit a 3 pointer to give SDSU a 64-62 lead with 3:28 to play.

Guebert followed with another 3-pointer less than 30 seconds later, firmly swinging the momentum in favor of the Jacks, who closed the game on a 16-2 run.

“You can’t end the game 1-of-11 (shooting) and on (the wrong side of) a 16-2 run,” Hillsman said. “That does it alone. You have to do a better job closing games.”

Sophomore Myah Selland (17 points) and Paiton Burckhard (10 points) joined Guebert and Miller as four Jacks scored in double-digits.

“We knew that this was going to be possible,” Guebert said about reaching the second weekend of the tournament. “… It’s such an unreal feeling. I couldn’t be more proud to be on this team.”

SDSU will look to avenge an eight-point loss to Oregon in December. The Sweet 16 rematch will take place at 10:30 p.m. Friday, March 29. The game will be televised on ESPN2.

“It’s phenomenal,” SDSU coach Aaron Johnston said. “That’s what we’ve talked about — not the end goal but moving forward in the NCAA Tournament. For us, we’ve won some first-round games but hadn’t won a second-round game yet, so that’s moving forward. Now we’re going to try and move forward again and not let this opportunity just pass by.”