WBB: Chippewas outlast Jackrabbits

Landon Dierks, Sports Editor

When South Dakota State and Central Michigan met 13 months ago, the Jackrabbits churned out a nine-point win in Mount Pleasant.

CMU returned the favor Saturday afternoon, as the Chippewa’s star guard Micaela Kelly took over the show inside Frost Arena.

Kelly came in averaging more than 20 points per contest, but nearly doubled that average in a 38-point outburst, boosting the Chippewas over the Myah Selland-less Jacks 79-74.

“We needed to shut her down,” said SDSU sophomore Lindsey Theuninck. “We knew what she did but didn’t get it done on her — that was obviously the issue tonight.”

Both programs have carved out their spot among the elite mid-majors in women’s college hoops. The Jacks (7-5) came in ranked 12th in the Dec. 10 CollegeInsider.com mid-major poll, with the Chippewas (5-3) close behind at 14th, so Saturday promised to be a heavily-contested affair.

In the end, it was each team’s current trend that played out.

CMU came to Brookings having won four in a row after losing its first three contests of the season. SDSU, on the other hand, lost at AP No. 3 Oregon Dec. 8 (the first game Selland missed and the contest freshman Tori Nelson injured her ankle) and struggled to pull away from a one-win Chattanooga team Wednesday before dropping its fifth game of the season Saturday.

While Kelly’s 38 points on 12-for-18 shooting (7-for-8 from 3) were the clear difference-maker Saturday, her big afternoon was a product of how the Chippewas looked to attack SDSU’s defense.

“I thought that we did a good job, between Micaela Kelly and Molly Davis (20 points), of taking advantage of their switching on-ball screens,” said CMU coach Heather Oesterle. “We had some open 3s, but we were also able to get downhill.”

To the Jacks’ credit, there was a considerable middle section of the contest where Kelly was a non-factor. From the 3:27 mark of the second quarter until just under seven minutes remained in the game, she scored just four points.

It was the other 23 minutes where Kelly carried her team.

“We switched up how we handled ball-screens and handoffs, all those kinds of things,” SDSU coach Aaron Johnston said. “Early [Kelly] was good and then she was really good late, in between, we were actually pretty solid. The hard part was I think our guards just wore down. What we ended up going to (defensively) was effective, but I think our guards ran out of gas at the end.”

Without Selland and Nelson, the Jacks weren’t only limited in perimeter defense options, their offensive playmaking was hindered as well. This played to the benefit of CMU, which was able to play a more aggressive style of defense.

“We were getting in passing lanes and helping off No. 33 (Paiton Burckhard) and No. 12 (Kallie Theisen) when they were in there,” Oesterle said. “You know you have built-in help there because we weren’t really guarding them outside. Then we were able to get out and be more aggressive knowing that we have help on the backside.”

In fact, Oesterle said her team had two different gameplans — one for if Selland played, another for her absence — and Johnston, knowing perfectly how much his star wing means to the program, wasn’t altogether surprised.

“Myah is really good,” Johnston said. “She just changes everything, can make a lot of plays and is a really good passer. I don’t think it’s a coincidence at how well Paiton played early and now where she’s at — some of that just has to do with how Myah creates offense for everybody.

“I can certainly see teams looking at it that way — I think Myah’s that good. But I also think we’re capable of winning without her. … We definitely have to identify how we can create some offense and find some better shots.”

Johnston said Nelson should return to action soon, but there isn’t a concrete timeframe for Selland’s return, though he expects her to be out for a while.

That means the remainder of the nonconference and likely the beginning of the Summit League schedule will have to be played without Selland.

“Myah obviously brings a spark for us offensively and defensively,” Theuninck said. “… We know that we need to be able to play without her. Obviously, we can’t just let this (losing) happen.”

But Selland and Nelson weren’t the reason SDSU didn’t come out ahead Saturday afternoon. 

The close scoreline throughout was evidence enough that the seven-player rotation Johnston was limited to against CMU was able to compete and, on another day, maybe even win.

Senior Tagyn Larson scored 15 points in just her third game back after a concussion forced her to miss five games. Theuninck scored 12 points in what was her second career start and the only two Jacks to come off the bench, freshman Kallie Theisen (12 points) and sophomore Sydney Stapleton (13), each reached double figures in 20-plus minutes of action.

What it came down to was defense, or the lack thereof at times for the Jacks Saturday afternoon, as Johnston was pleased with the overall production on the offensive end.

“Today, ultimately, was probably one of our better offensive games — that’s the real kick in the teeth,” Johnston said. “We’ve struggled to score 70 points this year, but we put 74 on the board and probably missed a lot of other options … 79 points is just too much to give up and expect to win.”

Next up for the Jacks is Marquette, which defeated SDSU in last season’s opening game 91-52. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. Dec. 17 at Frost Arena.