Jacks down Montana State in home opener

Landon Dierks, Sports Editor

Playing on the hardwood at Frost Arena for the first time this season, the South Dakota State women’s basketball team won 60-50 to improve to 2-2, while handing Montana State its first loss Thursday night.

It wasn’t the cleanest of games by the Jackrabbits, and SDSU head coach Aaron Johnston pointed to inconsistencies in execution as the main reason why his team has struggled at times through four games.

“It doesn’t take much to be more consistent,” Johnston said. “We obviously need to make some free throws. We need to limit turnovers. We’re kind of shooting ourselves in the foot at times with the inconsistency.”

SDSU (2-2) shot just 13-for-25 from the free throw line and turned the ball over 20 times, both of which contributed to a competitive game outside of the third quarter.

The third quarter proved to be the difference in the home-opener, just as it did on numerous occasions a season ago. SDSU built a five-point halftime lead into a 51-29 scoreline at the end of three quarters and pushed the advantage to as many as 24 early in the fourth.

“We just try to come out with more intensity than we did finishing the half and we try to carry that through the whole quarter,” said junior guard Tylee Irwin. “I think when the starters come out and give the spark it makes it easier for people coming off the bench.”

But Montana State (3-1) clawed back to make the final scoreline much closer than it could have been courtesy of a nearly seven-minute field goal drought to end the game for the Jacks.

“Something we definitely need to focus on is finishing games,” said senior forward Tagyn Larson. “Finishing the fourth quarter didn’t go how we wanted to, but the way we played the rest of the game and our defense allowed us to be in a good spot.”

The Bobcats fell by 21 last season when the teams met in Bozeman, but kept it interesting early on.

Montana State’s Fallyn Freije scored the first seven Bobcat points and the defense was able to limit the Jacks’ scoring opportunities. Though no one other than Freije was able to score until just over a minute remaining in the first quarter, Montana State trailed just 14-10.

SDSU’s offense sputtered at times throughout the first half, which allowed the Bobcats to be well within striking distance when the two teams headed into the locker room with a score of 27-22.

“That’s still coming along,” Irwin said of the SDSU offense. “Some people are still trying to get a feel or everything too. Obviously, we have a really different rotation (than last season). I think it’ll come and it’s not something we’re worried about at the moment.”

That’s when the third-quarter run, capped by an and-one conversion from sophomore forward Paiton Burckhard gave SDSU the cushion it needed to close out the win.

“That third quarter we looked like a more mature team and had a plan — really executed it well,” Johnston said.

The standout from Thursday night was Larson, who scored 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting after scoring a total of just nine points on 3-for-12 shooting in two prior games against Division I opponents this season.

“She was more assertive,” Johnston said. “The first couple of games she was passive. I think she was trying to figure out where her role was going to be and spots on the floor where we wanted to get her the ball. She really worked hard this week trying to help identify some of that — it paid off and she did a good job of responding to it.”

Burckhard continued to find offensive success early on in her second season in Brookings, adding a game-high 15 points, including a 9-for-11 effort at the free throw line.

While it was a positive to get a win in front of the home crowd, Johnston knows where his team is ahead of four more games in the next eight days.

“We’re trying to work different people into different roles,” Johnston explained. “Until they get really confident in that role, there’s going to be some of that (inconsistency). … When you have a lot of new roles it takes some time, so it’s not surprising or anything I’m disappointed at. We’ll just keep working at it because a big part of our offensive consistency we’re looking for comes from a unified plan and purpose.”

Up next, the Jackrabbits will play host to the Wyoming Cowgirls at 6 p.m., Nov. 23. After the second home game of the season, the Jackrabbits will make a Thanksgiving trip to Mexico where they’ll match up against No. 22 South Florida, Notre Dame and fellow mid-major power Florida Gulf Coast.