Men’s basketball finishes season in first despite loss to USD

The University of South Dakota Coyotes tore up the Jackrabbits men’s basketball team Saturday, defeating South Dakota State University 80-64 in what USD Head Coach Craig Smith called “probably” his team’s best performance of the year.

While the loss failed to strip the Jacks of the No. 1 seed heading into the Summit League Tournament, it did force SDSU to share the regular season title with their rivals to the south and gave them a sharp reminder of what can happen if they lose focus.

“I blame myself for not communicating better to them the desperation we need to play with in terms of how we practiced this week,” said Head Coach Scott Nagy. “It’s disappointing. It really is, but you have to give them a lot of credit.”

SDSU opened the game looking to seize its title and hand the Coyotes another losing season. 

For the first five minutes that result looked to be inevitable. The Jackrabbits knocked down three early threes en route to a 14-5 lead at the first media timeout.

But after the timeout, the momentum began to slowly shift. USD stormed back with a 12-2 run that stole back the lead and promised the Jackrabbits a fight if they wanted to come out of Vermillion, S.D. with the victory.

“Coach sat down and started coaching us and said, ‘guys, they’re going to make some threes and they’re a very good shooting team. The last couple games they made a bunch of threes and that’s how they started off and he said just stick with it,’” said Brandon Bos, a guard for USD.“…We just kept with the gameplan, kept playing inside out and made them take tough shots.”

For a while SDSU obliged as the two rivals traded blows, but it soon became apparent that the Jackrabbit offense was struggling. George Marshall hit a pair of clutch threes to counter Coyote threats to open up a lead and Cody Larson proved steady, but otherwise the offense struggled.

“Our defense was awful,” Nagy said. “For us, when we have bad defense, we have terrible offense. I want to give them [USD] credit because they just played with way more energy on both ends and executed way better than we did. There really isn’t anything on there [the stats sheet] that we won.”

USD would finish the half on a 12-3 run that all but knocked the Jackrabbits out of it. 

SDSU showed some defensive fight out of the locker room but that soon fizzled as they could not find offensive production on their own end. They would narrow the deficit to six points in the final 10 minutes, but ultimately saw USD pull away to the extent that Nagy finished the game with his bench on the court. 

Cody Larson proved the lone bright spot for the Jacks as he scored 25 points while raking in 12 rebounds. 

“That kid is a monster,” Smith said, noting that no matter what the Coyotes tried defensively on Larson, he still managed to make the shot or the right pass.

Jake Bittle also finished in double figures with 12 points, but the rest of the team struggled, finishing at 33 percent from the field.

“To hold them to 34 percent – that, without question, was the difference in the game,” Smith said.

The Coyotes had no such struggles, finishing the game at 47 percent from the field and knocking down 10 of 20 three-pointers and 20 of 24 from the charity stripe.

Tre Burnette of USD rose up to surprise the Jacks with 19 points and 13 rebounds despite having struggled to produce in the early stages of conference play. 

“If you had said a month ago that that kid was going to have 19 and 13 against South Dakota State I would have said you’re crazy, but he’s really figured it out,” Smith said.

Casey Kasperbauer’s four threes were key in claiming and extending USD’s first half lead. He finished the game with 17 points. Bos finished his senior night with 12 points. 

Next up these two teams will head off to Sioux Falls for the Summit League Tournament which begins Saturday, March 7. No. 1 SDSU meets No. 8 Western Illinois at 6 p.m. and then the winner of that game will take on the winner of Sunday’s matchup between No. 4 Fort Wayne and No. 5 USD.

“We’ve got to have a better week of practice and that will be my job to make sure that happens,” Nagy said