As one star falls, another rises

Most of the time when a basketball team loses one of their star players for a season, they struggle to replace them, as well as find an identity as a team.

But that’s not what happened to the South Dakota State women’s basketball team when their lead scorer and point guard, Macy Miller, went down with a season-ending injury.

Alexis (Lexi) Alexander, a junior guard from Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, has played in every game as a Jackrabbit but never started until Miller went down. But 17th year Head Coach Aaron Johnston said he wasn’t necessarily worried about replacing Miller.

“For us, it wasn’t about replacing Macy,” Johnston said. “It was about getting everybody else comfortable on how they needed to play without Macy. Lexi has done a great job there.”

Alexander is a different player than Miller. She has never been a dynamic scorer, averaging two and 3.7 points per goal her first two years, but she makes up for that in different ways. She leads the team in assists-to-turnover ratio, she’s one of the leaders in assists on the team and she is one of the team’s best defenders.

“Lexi looks to facilitate to other people more than she does look to score for herself,” Johnston said. “That doesn’t mean she can’t score; she can still take people off the dribble and score that way. She’s also capable of making three pointers when she’s open.”

Ellie Thompson, a junior forward, was in the same recruiting class as Alexander and had nothing but positive things to say about her new point guard.

“She’s a big contributor to our team,” Thompson said. “It might not always seem that way, but she always comes away with a lot of steals and assists, so she makes a lot of contributions other than scoring.”

Thompson also said Alexander’s ability to pass well, driving the ball and kicking out or taking the layup makes the defense work.

Alexander said she tried to do too much right away, trying to score as much as Miller did, then she remembered she needs to play her own game.

“I had to really just focus on my game and how I play the game, by being a distributor, playing hard defense and not being concerned about replicating Macy,” Alexander said.

Alexander has grown a lot as a leader since taking over the point guard position, Thompson said. She’s becoming more confident in herself and knowing her role to help the Jacks win.

Besides the seniors, most of the team hasn’t played without Miller. Both Alexander and Thompson said that was one of the hardest things to deal with.

After Miller went down, the team lost to Louisville 83-30. Since then they have been much more comfortable and expect to win every game, as if Miller was playing with them.

“After the Louisville game, [Lexi] really took it upon herself to become a more encouraging and positive leader,” Thompson said. “She’s one of those people that is always high-fiving people and making sure that if someone made a bad play to keep their head up.”

The Jacks never struggled to find an identity for themselves. Alexander stepped up along with her teammates when their star went down, winning 10 of their last 12 games to take first place in the Summit League standings as they close in on the end of the season.

“My teammates and coaches have really helped me to become more confident in myself,” Alexander said. “They’ve told me to believe in myself, to play the way they know I can and that I’m Lexi, not Macy.”