Jacks open conference tourney with win over Denver

By Austin Hamm

SDSU’s women’s basketball team knocked off the last team to beat them, topping the Denver Pioneers 79-61in the first round of the Summit league Tournament.


“Good win, good way to start the Summit league tournament,” SDSU head coach Aaron Johnston said. “Very competitive game, I thought, throughout. It wasn’t really decided until the final minutes. A lot of credit to Denver for how well they played.”


Megan Waytashek had game highs with 21 points and 8 rebounds, including the first 6 of the game, while fellow senior Mariah Clarin scored 13 points and freshman Macy Miller had 11 points, 5 rebounds and a game high 6 assists.  Denver was lead by 19 points from Morgan Van Riper-Rose.


“It’s shooting the first shot with confidence,” Waytashek said. “And once that first one goes down, you start feeling it.”


The 7th seeded Pioneers gave the 2nd seeded Jacks all they could handle for most of the game. SDSU came out with an 8-0 run to start the game, but Denver battled back responded with their own run to bring it to a one possession game, starting a cycle of a Jackrabbit run and a corresponding Denver run to keep it tight that continued well into the second half.


“With South Dakota State in this kind of environment with thousands of fans, you have to know they’ll make a run,” Denver head coach Kerry Cremeans said. “We new that we were capable of making our own runs. We were able to withstand that, clean up some things and bounce back and make that first half a really competitive 20 minutes.”


After closing the first half strong and taking a 41-34 lead to the locker room, the game felt in hand for the jacks. But an 8-0 run to start the second by Denver put the pressure back on the Rabbits. SDSU responded by keying up their defensive intensity, holding Denver to under 30% shooting in the second half after allowing them to hit 50% in the first.


Chynna Stevens struggled in her return to the court after a seven game absence, going 1-5 from the field in 12 minutes.


Junior Chloe Cornemann, playing in her third Summit League Tournament, was a solid veteran presence for the Jacks, as she teamed with freshman Alexis Alexander to help relieve the Miller and Kerri Young when the backcourt duo from Mitchell, S.D. looked overwhelmed at times.


“I thought “Lexie” Alexander and Chloe made a big difference in the second half. Their energy and defensive intensity was a big part of our defensive performance.”


Cornemann finished with 8 points, tying her season high, while Alexander had 4.


The attendance for the first session of the tournament at the Premier Center in Sioux Falls, which included the Jacks game and USD’s victory over IPFW, was 8,171, which is the highest attendance ever for any session of the Summit League Women’s Basketball Tournament. The previous record was 6,153, set at the 2013 championship, when SDSU last qualified for the NCAA tournament.


The Jacks will face the winner of the Oral Roberts-North Dakota State game in the semifinals on Monday, March 9th.