Dance Again: SDSU Tops South Dakota 61-55 in Summit League Title Game

SIOUX FALLS — The third time was the charm for South Dakota State.

After losing the two regular season meetings to rival South Dakota, the Jackrabbits used pressure defense and timely shooting from its underclassmen to come away with their seventh Summit League Tournament championship in eight years, topping the Coyotes 61-55 in the finals. 

Macy Miller, who was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, finished with 18 points and a game-high 10 rebounds to lead SDSU to another NCAA Tournament berth, something the team has been looking for since last season came to an end. 

After stumbling to the finish in the regular season, SDSU (25-6) put together three-straight performances worthy of the title over the weekend. On Tuesday, it started on the defensive end against the Summit League’s top offensive team. 

“Our team has really been stressing defense lately,” freshman Madison Guebert said. “I think we came out in all three games with tensity.” 

The 55 points scored USD (26-5) was the second-lowest point total of the season for the Coyotes and the lowest against a Summit League opponent. USD went into the championship game averaging nearly 80 points per game. 

“This is certainly a disappointing loss for us, that’s no question,” South Dakota head coach Amy Williams said. “I think we proved that we’re one of the best teams in this league and certainly, we feel like, capable of competing the best teams in this country.”

An intense and highly contested battle between two programs rather familiar with each other took place in front of 8,647 fans, the highest attendance for a women’s championship game in tournament history. 

Miller opened up the action with a three on the first possession of the game to get things started, but points were scarce in the first quarter with the Coyotes taking an 11-10 lead after one. 

Multiple plays in sequence highlighted the Jackrabbits’ effort, coming up with loose balls, diving on the floor and forcing jump balls at every turn. 

After Miller hit two free throws, she grabbed a defensive rebound on the other end and converted a three while Ellie Thompson (11 points, seven rebounds) came up with a block on a USD midrange jumper to help SDSU shrink the deficit to 22-20, forcing a Coyote timeout. 

Miller added a layup just before halftime to make it a 27-26 game in favor of USD at the break, but that’s when the Jacks started getting momentum. 

Clarissa Ober (seven points, nine rebounds, three blocks, two charges taken) helped the Jacks take the lead by coming up with a defensive rebound, an offensive rebound on which she was fouled, converted one of two free throws and hit a three in sequence to give the Jacks a 30-29 lead. 

Ober and Thompson both struggled from the field, but head coach Aaron Johnston credits both with their defensive presence in the game shutting down the Coyotes inside. 

“I thought Clarissa and Ellie were really good around the basket,” Johnston said. “They just made it hard for people to score.”

Miller grabbed her 10th rebound of the game off a Nicole Seekamp missed layup, leading to a Thompson finish inside to give the Jacks an eight-point lead with just 1:30 left in the game. Senior Gabrielle Boever forced a jump ball on the other end, ensure USD would be unable to answer that time. 

“Chloe (Cornemann) and I have a lot of experience with big games like this. We aren’t necessarily the go-to plays with scoring and stuff like that, so we come in with a mindset of getting every loose ball, every steal, getting on the floor, stuff like that,” Boever said of her and her fellow senior making the small plays in big moments. 

USD attempted to make a comeback late in the game, and it almost looked like they’d be able to pull it off after Seekamp scored four-straight points on one possession to cut the deficit to four. 

Free throws were exchanged the rest of the way but the Coyotes had one last chance to make the game interesting. Unfortunately for USD, the Jacks forced Seekamp (22 points, four rebounds, three assists) into an off balance three, coming up short and securing the win for SDSU. 

“I think we gave it our all and just kind of kept coming back at and I guess they were just able to make a few more shots than us,” Summit League Player of the Year Seekamp said.

SDSU now moves on to its seventh NCAA Tournament appearance in the last eight years and improves their Summit League Tournament record to 21-1, having now beaten the Coyotes in each of their last three title game appearances. 

Miller and Guebert (14 points and two assists) were both named to the All-Tournament team along with USD’s Seekamp and Kelly Stewart and the University of Nebraska-Omaha’s Mikaela Shaw. 

The Jacks now wait to find out who their NCAA Tournament opponent will be, which will be announced on Monday night.