Men face tough preseason schedule

Kristen Smith, Reporter

South Dakota State’s men’s basketball coach Eric Henderson looks at his team’s brutal non-conference schedule and sees opportunity.

He knows there will be setbacks, but insists, “that’s how you get better and look at and deal with adversity.”

The opportunities start Tuesday (Nov. 9) at the Frost Arena when the Jackrabbits play host to Bradley in the season opener. They travel to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Nov. 12 to tangle with the Crimson Tide, and the challenges keep rolling in after that.

Other November opponents include Montana State, Nevada, Washington and George Mason. Early December’s slate of games includes Idaho, Washington State and Missouri State.

 “We got the toughest schedule we’ve ever had,” Henderson said. “They’re all high-quality opponents, so we’ll be as challenged as we have ever been.”

The Jacks open the Summit League season Dec. 20 at Kansas City, then play at Oral Roberts two days later. Last season in the conference tournament, an Oral Roberts victory denied the Jacks a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament. The Golden Eagles then made it all the way to the Sweet 16 before bowing to Arkansas.

After that tough loss last March, Henderson had some advice for his team in the locker room: “Make sure to keep your heads up and use the game as motivation for the upcoming years.”

This year, SDSU was picked to finish first in the league in the preseason poll, and Henderson said his players and coaching staff are motivated for what’s next.

His expectations for the team are simple: work together consistently to get better and play “selflessly.” When this is done, the results seem to “take care of themselves,” the coach said.

Henderson said the team has been fantastic, and the players’ attitudes have made the preparation for the season enjoyable.

 “They just come and work their tails off with a good attitude, selflessly putting their teammates first,” Henderson said.

The Jacks have only one senior this year, Summit League first-team pick Douglas Wilson. The 6-foot, 7-inch forward averaged 16.8 points a game last year, 5.4 rebounds, and 2.3 assists.

Wilson started 18 of 19 games in 2020 but battled injuries throughout the season.

“To have Doug back and healthy is really refreshing for the team,” Henderson said. “Doug is extremely athletic and is able to affect the game in multiple ways. He’s a terrific defender and is so dynamic around the basket.”

Most importantly, Wilson is a playmaker who is more than willing to share the basketball with his teammates, the coach said.

Another key returner is guard and sophomore Baylor Scheierman, who led the league in assists last season. He finished the season averaging 15.4 points a game, 9.2 rebounds and four assists.

“He’s our best defensive rebounder who rebounds at a high level and we’re able to play a lot faster with him,” Henderson said.

Getting guard Noah Freidel back and healthy this year is “really important because he is a terrific competitor that plays hard and in the moment,” Henderson said.

Freidel averaged 16 points a game, 4.2 rebounds and 2.1 assists.

A new name to the team this year is Zeke Mayo, a freshman guard from Lawrence, Kansas. Mayo is expected to make a big impact for the Jacks with his ability to score at the basket, be a playmaker and shoot the ball from the perimeter.

Other key returners who saw playing time last year are forwards Alex Ariens, David Wingett, and Luke Appel, along with guards Matt Mims and Charlie Easley.

The Jackrabbits’ strengths include their players’ willingness to pass, along with accurate shooting.

“The team takes good-quality shots,” Henderson said.

Henderson wants his team to improve its rebounding this year.

“It’s not always a strength, but it is a main focus,” Henderson said.

Other areas for improvement, according to Henderson, include becoming more consistent on defense, challenging every shot, limiting the other team to one shot and getting those first-shot rebounds.