Surprise NCAA Tournament appearance ends in first round

The South Dakota State Jackrabbits’ season came to an end in the first round of the NCAA Tournament as they lost to top-seed Gonzaga Bulldogs, 66-46. 

“Our effort was phenomenal, but offensively we struggled, struggled to finish plays, struggled to get good shots and then, when we got those shots, we struggled to make those shots,” head coach T.J. Otzelberger said. “Against a great team, you have to convert those shots and we weren’t fortunate enough to do so.” 

It was a tale of two halves of the season for the South Dakota State men’s basketball team.

The Jackrabbits (18-17) started conference play just 1-6 with their lone win coming over the South Dakota Coyotes. 

South Dakota State was led by the nation’s second leading scorer, Mike Daum, who averaged 25.1 points per game. Daum scored 878 points on the year, breaking the SDSU school record previously set by Chris White in the 1991-1992 season. 

Daum also broke the school record of field goals made, which was previously set by Nate Wolters in the 2010-2011 season. 

“Mike is a phenomenal offensive player, he scores in so many ways,” Otzelberger said. 

For the first-year head coach, making the NCAA Tournament is just the beginning of the team’s success. Otzelberger sees this year as a opportunity to gain experience and to use that experience next year to make another run at an NCAA Tournament appearance. 

“It is important that we look at this season to build upon and challenge ourselves to grow even more,” Otzelberger said. 

South Dakota State will lose two seniors, A.J. Hess and Michael Orris, to graduation this year.

Arguably, the biggest game for Orris as a Jackrabbit was against South Dakota in the Summit League Tournament. Orris came through and turned in a career-high performance of 20 points. Through the season, Orris started 20 of the 24 games he played and averaged 30 minutes per game. Orris led the Jackrabbits in assists and contributed 8.1 points per game. 

A.J. Hess started 20 games, but was sidelined toward the later part of the year as he suffered an injury. Hess had the third-highest points per game total on the squad with 9.5 points. 

Then, Adam Dykman and Andre Wallace will both be transferring from South Dakota State. Wallace saw action in 26 games where he averaged 4.7 points. Dykman played in nine games. 

Returning for the Jackrabbits will be All-Summit League team members Mike Daum and Reed Tellinghuisen. Other key contributors for the Jackrabbits returning are Chris Howell, Ian Theisen, Skyler Flatten and Tevin King. 

“It bodes really well for us to return a big chunk of our core; there is a lot of leadership in that group, who are great guys, who love playing for SDSU,” Otzelberger said.

Now, the Jackrabbits will shift their focus to the second year under T.J. Otzelberger.

“Fans can expect a team that’s going to really be together, a lot of passion for the university, fans and students, a team that’s very unselfish and about winning,” Otzelberger said.