Jacks season ends: women’s basketball falls to No. 1 VA Tech in NCAA Tournament


Keith Lucas/Sideline Media Productions

South Dakota State’s Paiton Burckhard looks to pass the ball in the first round of the NCAA tournament women’s basketball game, March 17 against Southern California.

Skyler Jackson, Co-Sports Editor

The South Dakota State women’s basketball team saw one of its best seasons ever come to an end Sunday in the NCAA Tournament.

The No. 9 seed Jackrabbits were defeated by the 4th-ranked and No. 1 seed Virginia Tech 72-60 in front of 8,925 VT fans at Cassell Coliseum in Blacksburg, Virginia. SDSU ended its season with 29-6 overall, and its school-record 22-game win streak was snapped. The Hokies (29-4) advance to just their second Sweet 16 in program history where they’ll face Tennessee.

The Jacks faced an early deficit and eventually trailed by 23 at halftime. Despite facing that deficit in a tough environment, SDSU continued to fight, but it was too much of an uphill battle.

“Congratulations to (Virginia Tech), they’re certainly very deserving and they’ve had a great year,” Jacks coach Aaron Johnston said. “It was a challenging game because of the opponent and how good they are, but really appreciative of the atmosphere.”

Heading into Sunday’s game, not many people believed SDSU could win it. But the Jackrabbits had reason to believe they could, considering they’ve had a recent history of success in the tournament. They were also coming off a 62-57 win over the No. 8 seed USC Trojans Friday.

Myah Selland carried the Jacks in that game, scoring 29 points, just one shy of her career-high. It is the most points any Summit League player has ever scored in an NCAA Tournament game, beating Macy Miller’s 28 points against Quinnipiac in 2019.

So the Jacks entered Sunday’s matchup with confidence. But the Hokies put a stop to any potential chances of an upset right away.

Georgia Amoore’s 3-pointer in the opening seconds set the tone for the Hokies. Ranked third in the nation in made 3-pointers, Amoore hit two more in the first quarter and 7-of-19 total in the game.

The 3-pointer is what killed the Jackrabbits throughout the contest. Virginia Tech hit eight of them in the first half, including five of its first six in the first quarter. They led by 12 at the end of the quarter. The Hokies’ lead grew in the second quarter, thanks to a 10-0 run to end the quarter to take a 46-23 lead into the break.

At that point, the lead seemed too big for the Jackrabbits to come back from, but they never gave up. In the second half, the Jackrabbit defense began to step up. They outscored the Hokies 20-13 in the third quarter to cut the lead to 16.

“In the first half, they were really good, and we weren’t good enough in the first half,” Johnston said. “I thought we settled in as the game went on and we played well. We gave ourselves a chance to be in the game and be competitive.”

The Jacks kept fighting and cut it down to 10 with 3:13 left in the game, but they couldn’t get any closer. From there, the Hokies answered with three more 3-pointers to put the game away.

“That’s just something about this team this year, we just never felt like we were ever quite out of it,” Selland said. “We believed in each other until the very end and that’s something that I’ve appreciated about this team the whole year.”

Throughout the game, SDSU had many chances to change momentum but failed to capitalize on many open shots. It seemed like every time the Jackrabbits could hit one of those shots, the Hokies immediately answered.

“We’ll definitely lose some sleep over a few plays,” Selland said. “But like (Johnston) said, this is a great program, it’s a great team and (The Hokies) played great too. We’ll try to have to let those go and just reflect on the whole season.”

Selland scored 17 points to lead the Jacks in her final collegiate game. Paige Meyer and Haleigh Timmer each scored 12 points, and Tori Nelson added nine. Paiton Burckhard and Dru Gylten also played in their final games Sunday. Burckhard attempted only three shots and scored two points. Gylten played 14 minutes and had one assist.

Amoore played all 40 minutes and led the Hokies with 21 points, all on 3-pointers and added three assists. Elizabeth Kitley finished with 14 points, Taylor Soule scored 13 and Kayana Traylor added 11. As a team, Virginia Tech hit 12 threes compared to SDSU’s two and shot 41.8% from the field.

Despite the loss, the Jackrabbits feel they could compete with a No. 1 seed in the future. They’ve managed to compete with No. 2 and No. 3 seeds in the past. They even beat No. 3 seed Syracuse in the second round of the 2019 tournament en route to the program’s only Sweet 16 appearance. They also threatened to beat No. 2 seed Baylor in 2009 but lost 60-58.

While beating a No. 1 seed is always a tough task, the Jackrabbits believe they are capable of doing it if they get other opportunities.

“That’s not a knock against No. 1 seeds, I just think that’s more of a belief in our program for sure,” Johnston said. “If you’re going to beat a No. 1, the bottom line is, you’ve got to have some things go your way and you’ve got to have some things go against them.”