Led by a massive second-half surge, the South Dakota State men’s basketball team held on to the top spot in the Summit League with a 75-64 win over Purdue Fort Wayne Sunday afternoon at Frost Arena.
The Jackrabbits (20-8. 11-2 Summit) trailed the Mastodons (12-16, 5-8 Summit) by 10 at halftime, but went on a 40-7 run to start the second half while building the lead to as many as 23 points.
“Just the second half overall, everything we were doing was giving us energy,” said freshman David Wingett, who finished with 14 points, five rebounds and three assists. “… Twenty more minutes is a lot of time, and we’re here at home. We just stayed calm as a unit and did what we needed to do.”
While the ‘Dons sit seventh in the conference, their record isn’t quite indicative of their recent form. They recovered from a 2-5 start to go 3-2 since Jan. 30, with both losses coming by a combined 21 points to a North Dakota State team battling the Jacks for first-place.
Still, it’s not often you see any team, let alone one near the bottom of the league standings, come into Frost Arena and push the Jacks around, yet that’s exactly what happened for much of the first half.
PFW’s defense was disruptive and kept the Jacks from finding any semblance of rhythm. It sent quick double teams on baseline post touches and jumped several passing lanes, forcing 11 turnovers by SDSU and scoring 19 points off of them (SDSU had no points off six PFW turnovers).
On the other end, the Jacks held PFW to 38.7% shooting, but untimely fouls sent the ‘Dons to the free-throw line 11 times, where they converted nine.
“It wasn’t a very pretty first half, but our second half was pretty special,” said SDSU head coach Eric Henderson. “Really, really proud of our guys’ resiliency to bounce back and have a really great second half.”
For all the negatives the first half had to offer, it wasn’t even the first media timeout of the second half before SDSU had its first lead since early on. In fact, after just seven minutes, the Jacks found themselves ahead by more than the margin they trailed by at the break and had scored almost as many points during the burst (25) as they had the first 20 minutes.
“There wasn’t any panic, that’s for sure,” Henderson said.
While the game eventually settled down from the frenetic pace of the second-half’s opening moments, the Jacks didn’t stop building the lead until the waning moments when Henderson cleared his bench.
Matt Dentlinger scored a game-high 18 points and 10 rebounds and Douglas Wilson chipped in 17 points and five rebounds. The pair combined to go 15-for-16 from the field and 5-of-6 at the free-throw line.
The come from behind win was Henderson’s 20th victory in his first season as head coach. It’s SDSU’s seventh time in the past nine seasons reaching that threshold (and third in a row), but Henderson isn’t satisfied with just 20 wins, as his team is still chasing a conference regular-season title.
“It doesn’t just speak for our team this year,” Henderson said. “It speaks for the tradition at this place, what this place stands for, the tremendous people who are filling the seats every night. … It does mean something, but now is certainly not a time to reflect on that.”
Only three games remain for the Jackrabbits, who, for the moment, own half-game lead over North Dakota State in the standings. The two schools meet in the Jacks’ final game of the regular season Feb. 27 in Fargo.
“Obviously I’m really proud of our guys and about reaching the 20-win plateau, but it is what it is,” Henderson said. “We’re still trying to get better and not get ahead of ourselves.”
Next up, SDSU travels to Grand Forks, North Dakota, for a Feb. 19 contest against the University of North Dakota. The Jacks won the first meeting in Brookings 87-66.