Jacks advance to semifinals after scrappy game with Omaha


Evan Patzwald

Zeke Mayo goes up for a contested layup over an Omaha defender Saturday night in the quarterfinal round of the Summit League Tournament at the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center. Mayo struggled shooting the ball in the game, but finished with 14 points and will face either NDSU or USD in the semifinals Monday night.

Evan Patzwald, Co-Sports Editor

SIOUX FALLS – After a hard-fought victory, the SDSU men’s basketball team powered past upset-minded Omaha to advance to the semifinal round of the Summit League Tournament. The Jacks held a one-point lead after the first half and a scrappy second half gave them a 63-55 win Saturday night at the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center.

No. 2 SDSU and No. 10 Omaha went back-and-forth in the first half with the Mavericks shooting 53.6% from the floor and were 9-for-16 from 3-point range. This is coming from a team that went 8-22 in the regular season and finished last in the Summit League.

Part of the reason the game was able to stay within reach for Omaha was because they kept All-Summit League First Team member Zeke Mayo in check the whole game. He finished with 14 points, eight of which came from the free throw line. He shot 3-16 from the field and did not hit a 3-pointer, going 0-for-8 on the night.

“They played physical, they trapped, they got the ball out of Zeke’s hands a lot which kind of made our offense a little stagnant so credit to them, but we’ve got to be better offensively,” Charlie Easley said after the game.

Easley provided a spark on both ends of the floor, hitting two 3-point shots when the team couldn’t seem to make any in the second half. He had eight points and eight rebounds.

Alex Arians was the key guy for the Jacks the whole game with a team-high 18 points and four rebounds. He struggled from the field, only shooting 28%, but him and getting to the free throw line were the difference in the game.

“All of these games are going to come down to how much we can widen the margins. Whether that be trying to get offensive rebounds or trying to force turnovers, I think we just got to continue to widen the margin and in March it’s pretty small,” Arians said.

Other key blocks from Matt Dentlinger and Matthew Mors helped get the crowd involved and provided a spark that SDSU desperately needed.

“A lot of people talk about the electricity in Frost Arena and when we come down here, it’s the same thing,” Arians said. “We’ve got the best fans in college basketball and everybody in the building tonight could see that.”

After scoring 39 points in the opening 20 minutes, the Mavericks only scored 16 in the second half and were held to an 18.8% shooting from the field.

Omaha was led by Jaeden Marshall with 19 points and four rebounds, along with 11 points and 12 rebounds from Frankie Fidler.

This game continued a trend of SDSU struggling in the opening round of the Summit League Tournament the last few seasons. The last two seasons, the Jacks have played Omaha in the quarterfinal and won by eight points last season and 13 in 2021. In 2020 they were upset by the No. 7 seed Purdue Fort Wayne 77-74 and in 2019, lost to the No. 8 seed Western Illinois 79-76. Coach Eric Henderson made a point that everybody is trying to win in March and every win should be celebrated whether by one point or by 20.

“These guys are young, and this is one of the biggest crowds we play in,” Henderson said. “Whether you’re playing a six seed or seven seed, or in this case a 10 seed, they kind of take that ‘us against the world’ mentality and really come together. Our guys may not be as happy in the locker room right now but any wins at this time of year, we need to celebrate.”

SDSU advances to the semifinal round for the third season in a row and will play the winner of the No. 3 North Dakota State/No. 6 South Dakota game and tip-off Monday night at 8:30.

The whole tournament can be seen on Midco Sports Net/Midco Sports+ and ESPN+.