Jacks, ‘Yotes meet for top spot in Summit


Landon Dierks, Sports Reporter

Round two.

The stage is set as Summit League Tournament seeding and the conference regular season title will likely be decided during the South Dakota Showdown Series on Sunday afternoon at Frost Arena.

With a win, South Dakota State would be one win away from its first regular season Summit League title since 2013-14 and the No. 1 seed in next month’s conference tournament.

South Dakota, on the other hand, would put itself in a position to claim the school’s fourth regular season conference championship in the past five seasons, if the Coyotes can replicate the last matchup between the two schools.

On Jan. 6, USD and SDSU played in Vermillion, where the Coyotes came out of that contest with a 105-98 win in double overtime.

This last-season rematch has more riding on it than the early-season matchup, and SDSU coach Aaron Johnston knows what to expect this edition of the South Dakota Showdown.

“I think the reality is big games always have just a little bit more pressure and anticipation,” Johnston said. “I think it absolutely impacts everybody involved from players to coaches to officials. That’s the nature of it … but that’s also one of the really fun things about being in this program.”

The Jackrabbits (21-6, 13-1) and the No. 23 Coyotes (24-3, 12-1) have separated themselves from the rest of the Summit League, each having four fewer conference losses than third place Western Illinois.

SDSU has not lost since the loss at the Sanford Coyote Sports Center, reeling off 11 straight victories. Not to be outdone, the rivalry win was USD’s first in what now stands at an 11-game winning streak.

“Since that tough loss, (the season) couldn’t have gone better,” Johnston said. “We’ve played really well … I’m not saying that game was the turning point. It just becomes a time where you are reminded people need to continue to improve and we’ve had that.”

What makes the respective streaks more impressive is the fashion in which the South Dakota schools have won. SDSU’s average margin of victory during the win streak is 26.4 points per game. USD’s scoring margin over its last 10 games stands at 21.9.

“You look at our last stretch of games and we’ve won a lot of games by double digits … We’ve had a lot of wins that haven’t really tested us and I think that will be different in this game. Going into the (conference) tournament it’s nice to have those challenges,” Johnston said.

This will be the best opportunity both teams have to evaluate their position heading into postseason play.

For SDSU, defending USD will be a challenge, but not one that it is unprepared for.

“USD’s a different type of team,” Johnston said. “They’re like us in that four or five people on the floor can all shoot the ball at all times, so they spread you out more than a lot of the teams in our league do. They’ll have multiple people post up like we do, so they put a lot more pressure on you around the basket than a lot of other teams.”

The Jacks have made improvement since the last time the in-state rivals met. Johnston has been particularly pleased with the progress made by starters Tagyn Larson and Tylee Irwin.

In the Jacks’ last three games, Larson scored a combined 52 points on 22-of-26 shooting to go with 21 rebounds while Irwin has scored in double figures in three of the last five contests.

Sunday will also be the last South Dakota Showdown rivalry game that the three SDSU seniors (Madison Guebert, Macy Miller and Sydney Palmer) play at Frost Arena. Johnston expects that will bring out the best in the class of 2019.

“They’ll be fully invested in every play and every minute that they’re out there on the floor,” Johnston said. “All three of them have been great all year and I would expect them to play really well on Sunday.”

SDSU’s recent success has not gone unnoticed by the USD camp.

“Just in watching how [SDSU] has been scoring, they’ve been doing it very, very efficiently and holding teams down,” USD coach Dawn Plitzuweit said in her postgame press conference Thursday. “I think it’s going to be a very big challenge and certainly will be a very good environment (at Frost Arena).”

Opening tip is scheduled for 1 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 24.