SDSU grinds out win over Chattanooga

Landon Dierks, Sports Editor

Less than a week after running away from winless Coppin State in a 53-point beatdown, South Dakota State hosted the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, which had managed only one win on the season.

That one win proved to be the difference between a blowout and a closely-contested game.

UTC (1-10) challenged SDSU (7-4), even holding a lead with only a minute to go before halftime. But a 22-11 third quarter gave SDSU an advantage it would not relinquish in a 71-56 win Wednesday night at Frost Arena.

“We needed to come out and work harder to get things done,” said SDSU sophomore guard Lindsey Theuninck, who got her first career start and scored 13 points in 38 minutes. “It’s not going to come easy. We have to box out. We have to play good on-the-ball defense and we just weren’t getting it done. I think our mentality is what changed in the second half.”

Though even when things were going well, it wasn’t always perfect.

SDSU turned the ball over just 10 times, but forced only seven against a UTC team averaging nearly 19 turnovers per game. This allowed the Mocs to find spurts of offensive rhythm where they were particularly effective from 3-point range (10-for-24).

Despite the Mocs’ struggles to get in the win column, SDSU coach Aaron Johnston knew UTC was capable of putting up a fight, saying, “they’re a better team than what their record is,” in his Dec. 9 update with It was UTC’s offensive capabilities that stood out most.

“It’s their ability to make plays,” Johnston said after the game. “They were hard to guard individually. They have people who can get by you off the dribble and a lot of people who can make 3s. There were times in this game where it was a toss up as to how it was going to go. … To our credit, in that third quarter, we really defended well.”

It might not have been the most impressive win on the resume, but the Jacks were coming off a 39-point loss to Oregon and were without starting forward Myah Selland and key reserve Tori Nelson, who started in place of Tagyn Larson when the latter was out with a concussion.

Larson returned to action Sunday against Oregon and led all scorers Wednesday night with 15 points, adding six rebounds and eight assists.

Johnston is hopeful to get Nelson back in the lineup soon, saying her ankle injury is “nothing too serious,” and noting her status is day-to-day.

Selland, on the other hand, will likely miss several games as she recovers from a foot injury. Johnston made the following comments about Selland’s status in his Dec. 9 update with

“I don’t see her coming back any time soon. Unfortunately, her career, not just this year, has been slowed by injuries. What she needs is just time to get healthy. Watching her try to fight through a couple of things she’s been dealing with this year has been tough on her and tough on everybody. We want to be respectful of her time and overall health.”

Without Selland, the Jacks will have to replace the production of a preseason first-team All-Summit League forward and shuffle the available players to fill the necessary roles. The team has had to do that very thing in previous years when Selland missed time and did so without Larson early on this year, but that doesn’t necessarily make it easier.

“We’ve had to use a lot of different lineups and that’s hard for everybody — getting comfortable in your role is really important,” Johnston said. “There’s maybe one or two players on our team that has been in the same role from day one. … But I’m proud of how everybody has responded. It seems like we keep asking people to slide to different positions or change their role and everyone is responding well to it.”

The Jackrabbits have two more nonconference home games over the next week — the last appearances at Frost Arena of the calendar year.

Johnston noted the importance of getting wins at home, especially given the Jacks played seven games (with one more to come) away from Brookings in nonconference play and have the 22nd-ranked strength of schedule according to

“We’ve had a tough schedule,” Johnston said. “… And a lot of games have been away from Frost Arena. Our team has really weathered that really well despite all the injuries, lineups and everything we’ve gone through. I’m pleased with where we’re at, but these next few games will tell us exactly where we’re at because they’re going to be tough.”

SDSU hosts Central Michigan at 2 p.m. Dec. 14, and Marquette at 7 p.m. Dec. 17.