Nelson, SDSU roll over Coppin State

Landon Dierks, Sports Editor

College basketball games feature 40 minutes of regulation playing time — that’s 2,400 seconds.

And the South Dakota State women led for every single one of them in a 94-41 thrashing of Coppin State Thursday night at Frost Arena.

It began when the Eagles were assessed a technical foul for failing to submit a starting lineup in time, giving the Jackrabbits the opportunity to shoot free throws before the ball was even tipped. Paiton Burckhard made 1-of-2, giving SDSU (6-3) an advantage that wouldn’t be threatened after the opening moments, as the lead would reach as many as 59 points during the third quarter.

To say Coppin State (0-8) has struggled to this point in the season might be an understatement.

Coming into Thursday, the Eagles were winless and had lost by an average of 31.7 points per contest — playing only two games closer than 20 points.

Those woes continued against the Jacks. 

“We came out really ready to play,” junior forward Myah Selland said. “We had a good stretch of games down in Cancun and really wanted to build off of that. I think we did a really good job of coming out and doing that.”

Fresh off a trip to Cancun, Mexico, where SDSU defeated nationally-ranked South Florida and traditional women’s basketball power Notre Dame and played Florida Gulf Coast within a point, the Jacks returned home to put together their best statistical showing of the season.

The Jacks forced 21 turnovers, outscored the Eagles 30-0 in points off turnovers and 46-20 in points in the paint and held the Eagles to 34% shooting.

Starting in place of the injured Tagyn Larson for the fifth straight game, freshman Tori Nelson put together an impressive offensive showing. Nelson scored 23 points on 9-for-12 shooting, including 4-for-6 from 3-point range, and had a team-best plus-minus of plus-51.

“We’re such an unselfish team and we’re really looking for the extra pass. We all look for each other and that really helped tonight,” Nelson said. “… All the girls have been really helping me, Kallie (Theisen), some of the newer players really find our role and what we need to do to help the team be productive.”

Joining Nelson in double figures were Sydney Stapleton (17), Selland (13) and Tylee Irwin (11).

“Sydney Stapleton is a really good shooter — it’s nice to see her get into a good rhythm and I hope she can build on that,” Johnston said. “Tori is just a really good young player and can do a lot of things. Both of them, when they make perimeter shots, that’s going to loosen up a lot of other things for them too.”

If there was one bright spot for the Eagles it was 6-foot-3 center Jalynda Salley, who finished with a 10-point, 15-rebound double-double.

Looking ahead, the Jacks make a weekend trip west to take on No. 3 Oregon (6-1), which is led by defending Wooden Award (given to the most outstanding player in women’s college basketball) winner Sabrina Ionescu.

The Ducks talent is undeniable and the single-digit ranking next to their name (they were the preseason No. 1 before falling to now-No. 2 Louisville last week) indicates championship-level expectations, but the Cancun trip has Johnston optimistic about his team’s ability to compete come Sunday afternoon.

“It’s good for them to get the wins (over then-No. 21 South Florida and Notre Dame) and feel like we’re capable of beating teams,” Johnston said. “We feel like we can get better and hopefully that makes things easier, but nothing has to dramatically change for us to be a good team … I think that helps a team feel good about what they’re capable of — they don’t have to be something else to beat good teams. They can be exactly who they are.

The Jacks and Ducks met twice last season — last December at Frost Arena (an 87-79 Oregon win) and in the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16 (a 63-53 Oregon win).

“I think we’ll be able to play off of last year, but we have a new team this year, they have a new team, so we’re just looking forward to the opportunity to play a team like that and see where we compete,” Selland said.

While Oregon is often touted as one of the premier offensive teams in the country, Johnston said the Ducks’ defense is impressive.

“We’ll have to find ways to score against an elite-level defense — that’s the real challenge when you play teams like (Oregon),” Johnston said. “… They’re awfully good. They have a lot of (future) pro players on that team. I think the fact we’ve played them a couple times helps. We can look at what worked, what didn’t, and it gives us some comfort there.”

Opening tip is scheduled for 2 p.m. CST Sunday, Dec. 7, at Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene, Oregon.