Jacks’ comeback bid falls short in loss at Drake

Landon Dierks, Sports Editor

DES MOINES, Iowa — In a season-opening battle of two mid-major women’s basketball powers, Drake shut down South Dakota State’s second-half rally to win 74-67 Friday night at the Knapp Center.

Drake entered the season atop the espnW mid-major poll (the Jackrabbits appeared at No. 10 in the poll) and is the favorite to win the Missouri Valley Conference for the third season in a row.

Led by 43 combined points from Sara Rhine and Becca Hittner, the Bulldogs defended their preseason rank and got revenge for a 80-71 defeat at the hands of SDSU last December in Brookings.

“Rhine and Hittner are just really good players,” SDSU coach Aaron Johnston said in a postgame radio interview. “… Drake is awfully good. They could win 30 games this year and that wouldn’t really be a surprise.”

Though the game wasn’t decided until the final minutes, things looked like they might get out of hand early. The opening moments for SDSU were uncharacteristically sloppy for a Johnston-coached team.

Through 15 minutes, the Jacks were just 6-for-21 shooting, had 11 turnovers and trailed 29-14. They would bring the game back within seven points at 31-24, but by halftime, Drake had pushed the lead back to 38-26.

“We weren’t in a very good situation those first few minutes,” Johnston said. “We switched some things up offensively and I think that helped our players.”

Johnston’s second-half adjustments were immediately noticeable.

SDSU cut the lead to 40-37 early in the third quarter. After Drake made a small surge to try and pull away, the Jacks would get the lead down to two points late in the quarter. However, it was the Bulldogs who carried a 51-47 lead into the final 10 minutes.

“At the beginning, we were a little frantic throwing it inside,” said sophomore forward Paiton Burckhard. “But then we started to be more patient and got some really good looks. It then converted into good outside looks too.”

The final quarter played out how one might expect between two teams expected to make runs at conference titles come March.

Drake led by as many as six at the midway point of the fourth, but a quick 5-0 SDSU run cut the lead to one.

That’s when Hittner took over.

The senior guard scored five quick points of her own to push the Drake advantage to 67-61 with 1:45 remaining.

SDSU couldn’t find the offense necessary to complete its comeback bid, as Drake put the game away with free throws in the closing seconds.

“I thought even late we had plenty of chances to make some shots and win the game,” Johnston said. “We had a lot of chance in the paint late and couldn’t get a basket.”

Burckhard led all SDSU scorers with 18 points. Junior forward Myah Selland was the only other Jackrabbit to reach double figures, adding 17 points and five rebounds, though she also turned the ball over five times.

The Jacks will be back on the road for their second game of the season Tuesday, Nov. 12, when they travel to Omaha, Nebraska, for a matchup with Creighton.