Men’s basketball team looks ahead to undefeated USD


Evan Patzwald, Sports Reporter

The South Dakota State University men’s basketball team had two games against Denver canceled this past weekend, leaving the Jackrabbits short on competitive minutes as they prepare to face rival University of South Dakota.

This is the second time this season that a pair of Summit League games have been canceled on the Jacks because of the coronavirus pandemic. The team has played only five games in the past seven weeks.

“It is pretty disappointing,” Coach Eric Henderson said after practice Friday. “We just need to control what we can control and get ready for the next game.”

Henderson, who has been coaching for two years, reminds his team that even though it’s been hard to navigate through an unpredictable season, there are more important things.

“The whole world is being affected by this pandemic right now,” said Henderson, whose team is 10-3 overall (4-0 in Summit League) after winning five straight. “We need to remember that and remind ourselves that the people’s health is involved and it’s not just about basketball.” 

Next time they hit the court, the Jackrabbits likely will be counting on a strong performance by guard Baylor Scheierman, who has improved in a variety of ways during his sophomore campaign. He stepped up from averaging six points a game last season to 13.8 points a game this season. 

“We don’t do everything we do in the offseason and the preseason to not be able to play games during the regular season, so it is tough,” Scheierman said about the games against Denver getting shut down.

The Jackrabbits’ recent inactivity has included a stretch of three weeks with no games. In a normal year, it is unusual to go this long without play.

Part of the long break was caused by a struggle to find opponents in their nonconference schedule. That is why the Dakota Showcase was scheduled in mid-December with the other Dakota teams – USD, North Dakota State and North Dakota – at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls.

Henderson thinks the long layoff did help his team refocus and regroup to prepare for its conference schedule. 

“In that time, we were able to get some rest and [were] able to get our team healthy and back to where we feel like we can compete for championships,” Henderson said. “Having gone through that experience, hopefully we can come back and play well.”

The Jacks’ backcourt is one of the reasons why the team is averaging 80.5 points a game. Sophomore Noah Freidel leads the team in scoring, averaging 17.6 points per game, and junior Alex Arians is also averaging 11.8 points a contest. Douglas Wilson, meanwhile, is second on the team in scoring with 15.8 points a game.

The Coyotes travel to Brookings to play on Friday and Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. They sit atop the Summit League standings at 8-0 in league play and are 10-6 overall. They are coming in hot, winning nine in a row.

“I just see it as another game,” Scheierman said. “Obviously they’re our in-state rival, so it’s gonna be a big deal, and we’re both undefeated, so that’ll be an even more of an added pressure.”

The last time these two teams faced off was Dec. 12 in the Dakota Showcase. USD won 91-78. 

USD senior guard Stanley Umude scored a career-high 41 points to pace the Coyotes. The Jackrabbits were not at full strength, though. Wilson, reigning Summit League Player of the Year, did not play the entire Dakota Showcase due to an injury, and Freidel was ejected at the end of the first half because of a flagrant foul.

That foul earned the high-scoring sophomore a suspension.

“Stanley played phenomenal, but to be able to have our whole team healthy against them also is exciting.” Henderson said. “Defensively is the side of basketball we need to be more consistent. We’ve had moments and spurts where we’ve been very good, but it needs to be more consistent, and when we do that it helps on both sides of the ball.”

Another USD player to watch is sophomore guard A.J. Plitzuweit, who had the best game of his young career in a tight contest against Omaha Saturday night. He ended up scoring 37 points on the way to a four-point victory for the Coyotes.

USD Tasos Kamateros started the season slow, but has seen his minutes increase lately, and is averaging 11.6 points over his last five games.

USD most recently went 2-0 in its series with Omaha this past weekend, beating the Mavericks 91-59 on Friday and 97-93 on Saturday to pick up their eighth and ninth wins in a row. Umude is showing no signs of slowing down, currently averaging 20.5 points per game on the season.

“They’re playing with a lot of confidence, and we’re just really excited to play them,” Henderson said.