SDSU dominates second half, downs DWU

Landon Dierks, Sports Editor

SIOUX FALLS — It was close, and then it wasn’t.

Behind a quarter-long offensive outburst, the South Dakota State women’s basketball team notched its first win of the young season, defeating Dakota Wesleyan 77-46 Friday night at the Sanford Pentagon.

While the final score indicates a one-sided game, it wasn’t always that way.

After leading 34-32 at the halfway mark, SDSU nearly equaled its first-half point total in a 30-7 third-quarter surge that put the game firmly in the Jackrabbits’ control.

Friday night’s meeting was between two South Dakota programs that have had plenty of recent success at their respective levels of competition, which provided 2,139 fans a chance to watch a competitive half of college hoops played by mostly local talent.

“We had a great crowd,” SDSU head coach Aaron Johnston said. “They had a good fan base here, we had a good fan base here. This was something that was fun for our players — they’ll enjoy it and remember it.”

SDSU’s Division I postseason success has been well-documented, but the Tigers aren’t lacking in that respect either.

DWU may be from a lower classification of collegiate athletics, but it has a championship pedigree. Two seasons ago, the Tigers won the NAIA Division II national title. They reached the national semifinals again last season and are a top-10 ranked to start the 2019-20 campaign.

That’s why Johnston wasn’t altogether shocked to see the Tigers compete with his Jackrabbits early on.

“They’re good and have a lot of really good seniors that know how to play, have won a lot of games and expect to win a lot of games,” SDSU head coach Aaron Johnston said. “… They looked like a senior-led team out there in the first half — didn’t get shook, made a lot of big shots.”

SDSU jumped out to an early 9-2 lead and it looked like the rout could have been on early, but once DWU settled in, the game evened out.

Tiger senior Sarah Carr hit a stepback 3 from the top of the arc, and fellow senior Kynedi Cheeseman laid the ball into the hoop off a backdoor cut to tie the game at 12 with 2:30 remaining in the first quarter.

It would remain a tight game all the way up until the halftime buzzer. DWU was able to stay close by combining efficient offense with quality defense, often forcing SDSU to take contested jump shots from the perimeter.

“In the first half we took a lot of 3s, missed a lot of 3s and settled offensively,” Johnston said. “And [DWU] made shots. They did a nice job of running through their stuff. In the second half, we were more disruptive defensively. We rebounded better, were more patient and got the ball to better spots offensively.”

Through 20 minutes, the Tigers were 50% from the field, 46% from 3 and perfect at the free throw line. Those numbers dropped to 25% and 20%, respectively, in the second half, with DWU missing its only two free throws after halftime.

By comparison, SDSU shot 39% from the field and 24% from 3 in the first half, but turned things around in the final 20 minutes. The Jacks made 49% of their shot attempts in the second half, including a 43% effort from long range.

Leading the way for the Jacks was sophomore forward Paiton Burckhard, who scored 23 points — her third straight double-digit scoring effort to open the season.

“When the team moves the ball well, it helps her inside,” Johnston said, explaining Burckhard’s early-season production. “It creates some angles and space for her to catch it and score, and she finishes really well around the basket.”

But Burckhard wasn’t the only player to have success near the hoop.

Senior forward Tagyn Larson was the only other Jackrabbit to reach double figures, scoring 10 points to go with five rebounds and five assists. Junior forward Myah Selland came just shy of recording a double-double, scoring nine points and grabbing nine rebounds.

All told, SDSU outscored DWU 40-16 in the paint and 22-0 on second-chance opportunities.

In each of SDSU’s three games this season, the Jacks have struggled to find their footing on both ends of the floor. They found it midway through Friday night’s contest, but Johnston knows his team has to be better moving forward.

“We just haven’t been very consistent,” Johnston explained. “I don’t mean for long stretches, I mean within a game, three, four, five minutes. There were times in that third quarter when we were really good, then we got to the end of it and had some breakdowns. We have to learn how to put longer stretches of quality basketball together, and I thought the second half was closer to that.”

It’s still early in the season, but Johnston has a list of things he’d like to improve on.

“We have to take care of the ball better — that’s a big issue for us,” Johnston said. “We just have a lot of loose possessions. We settle sometimes for jump shots where we’re not quite giving ourselves a chance to see what other options we have. And (we need to) eliminate some mistakes defensively.”

Next up, the Jacks open their home slate of games at 7 p.m. Nov. 21, when Montana State heads to Brookings.