Showdown for first place in Fort Wayne

Collegian Sports staff

After an up and down week, the SDSU men’s basketball team now has its sights set yet another big game, which seems to come up frequently this year in the Summit League. 

The Jacks (20-6, 9-3 in the Summit League) suffered perhaps their most difficult defeat of the season, falling to the Omaha Mavericks 96-92 on the road. Though Omaha presented a tough task as the high-scoring offense in the conference, SDSU had one of the best defenses in the conference prior to the contest. That defense was unable to contain the Mavericks, allowing Omaha to shoot 59 percent from the field while hitting 11-of-18 three-point attempts. 

“It’s a joke – an absolute joke,” head coach Scott Nagy said of the defensive effort. “They did all the things it takes to win tough basketball games – free throws, rebounding, turnovers. You don’t win games playing the way we did.”

SDSU rebounded three days later by suffocating the South Dakota Coyotes in Frost Arena. Despite trailing by as many as 10 in the first half, the Jacks used runs of 19-0 and 30-2 to silence the visiting rivals, coming away with an 85-68 win to sweep the South Dakota Corn Showdown Series sweep. 

“We needed to get going and our crowd was a big factor in us doing that,” redshirt freshman Mike Daum said of the 5,035 fans in attendance. “We fed off their energy, and I knew when we got rolling it’d be hard for them to stop us.”

A hard pill to swallow of a loss followed up by a win over the rivals later, SDSU remains tied atop the Summit League standings with their next opponent: the IPFW Mastodons. 

Having a win over the Mastodons (20-7, 7-1) already, the Jacks are capable of picking up the win, but the defense that showed up at Omaha is best to be avoided against IPFW. 

IPFW is led by junior guard Max Landis, who has emerged as a Player of the Year candidate in the Summit League. Landis currently leads the nation in three-point shooting, hitting exactly 50 percent of his attempt from beyond the arc this season while averaging 18.9 points per game.

In the first meeting, Landis finished with 23 points on 5-of-11 shooting from beyond the arc. He and freshman John Konchar (22 points, 13 rebounds) made up 45 of IPFW’s 76 points and both figure to be major players in the rematch that could decide who finishes as conference champs and earns the 1-seed in the Summit League tournament. 

Senior guards George Marshall and Deondre Parks both hit career-highs in the first meeting, Marshall topping out with a career-high 28 points 11-of-22 shooting while Parks dropped career-high tying 26 points on 9-of-17 from the field. 

Two interesting wrinkles to this game involve players who didn’t participate in that first meeting. 

Mo Evans, IPFW’s leading scorer for much of the season, was ruled ineligible before playing SDSU the first time. For the Jacks, Jake Bittle was still nursing a knee injury and did not play. Evans continues to be unavailable for the Mastodons while Bittle returned to the Jacks lineup a week later. 

With a tight race throughout the conference, Thursday’s contest in Fort Wayne could act as the deciding factor in tournament seeding. SDSU is just 7-6 on the road this season while IPFW is 10-1 at home.