Senior Night victory over USD

Four seniors on the SDSU men’s basketball team finished their careers in Frost Arena on a high note, sweeping the season series with USD with a 75-61 victory in a game they led from wire to wire.

Together Brayden Carlson, Chad White, Jordan Dykstra and Marcus Heemstra have compiled an 89-41 overall record, a 48-8 home record, won back-to-back Summit League titles in 2012 and 2013 and made the program’s first two NCAA Tournament appearances.

In a postgame ceremony, each of the four seniors were honored, receiving framed jerseys and having words spoken about them by head coach Scott Nagy before they received the opportunity to address the crowd themselves. 

“I put some extra time in before the game, focusing that I wouldn’t break down like my mom, I knew would, and my girlfriend and sister and this guy [Dykstra] right here,” Carlson said. “There’s a lot of emotion in it and we played our hearts out tonight and left it all out there.”

Nagy declared that they were the best senior class in program history and later elaborated on his remarks in the press conference. Beyond the wins at the Division I level, Nagy mentioned a broad array of impacts his seniors have had.

“When you look at the impact that those four guys had on me, on the SDSU community, the Brookings community, the state of South Dakota, academically how strong all four of them are, the two Academic All-Americans, the philanthropy, the work they did in Haiti, the impact those four guys have had has been absolutely incredible,” Nagy said.

Feeding off the enthusiasm from the 5,509 fans who turned out to catch the rivalry game, the Jacks raced to an early 16-3 lead that set the tone for a game in which the visiting Coyotes would not come to within fewer than six points of the Jacks and would find themselves trailing by double digits for the entirety of the second half.

“They just came off of a pretty big loss and we needed to keep them down and not give them any confidence,” Dykstra said. 

The early offensive run was spurred largely by Dykstra who scored 11 of SDSU’s first 23 points before letting his fellow teammates take over the action. By the time the final buzzer had sounded, each of the five SDSU starters had reached double figures.

After, once again, starting strong with five straight points to start the second half, the Jacks extended their lead to as many as 26 points before the Coyotes eventually closed up a game that both teams knew was out of reach. 

SDSU dominated in nearly every category, outshooting the Coyotes 44.9 percent to 28.8 percent and outrebounding them by 11 in the game. Also standing out was the points in the paint category in which the Jacks dominated 30-8.

“I felt the difference in the game tonight was that they were just bigger and more physical than we were tonight,” USD head coach Joey James said. “I believe they beat us on the boards again by 11. We got some offensive rebounds late in that game, but it was over at that point.”

One area the teams did break even in was at the free throw line where both squads when 25 for 29 from. While Nagy said he was pleased with how his defense performed, he was nonetheless concerned about giving way that many trips to the line, saying there are ways for his players to play defense without fouling. 

Brandon Bos led the Coyotes with 21 points and Tyler Flack also finished in double figures with 16. Notably absent from points column was USD’s leading scorer Trevor Gruis who was held scoreless in just 13 minutes of action. Besides the foul trouble that kept him on the bench, James mentioned that Gruis has been struggling as of late.

“Trevor right now is not playing up to Trevor’s ability and he knows that,” James said. “And I’m not going to be hard on him, because he is a good player. I think he’s one of the top post kids in the league, but I think right now, for whatever reason, we just got get back to work and get his confidence back in him.”

Leading the way in scoring for the Jacks was Dykstra, who during Thursday’s 78-69 victory over Denver. Dykstra became the third player in school history to score 1,500 points and pull down 800 rebounds. Saturday’s stat line honored that status as he came away with his eighth double-double of the season and twentieth overall, scoring 19 points and pulling down 10 rebounds.

Carlson finished second on the team in scoring with 15 to go along with four rebounds and four assists. Jake Bittle finished with 13 points and seven rebounds. Scoring 12 points was Cody Larson, and rounding out the Jacks in double figures was White who had 10 points and a game high five assists.

Nagy has repeatedly mentioned Bittle as one of the factors behind SDSU’s midseason turnaround in which the Jacks win eight of their final nine games in the season. Out for more than a month early in the season, Bittle worked his way into the starting lineup where he has been a mainstay during conference play.

“I thought quietly Jake had a really good game,” Nagy said. “Defensively he played really well. I thought whoever he was on struggled to score. He was physical. He got us off to a good start with the rebounding.”

Though not regular season champions, and destined for a third seed in the tournament, SDSU’s run brought about a 10-4 conference record that likely few outside of the program expected possible just one month ago when the team entered their February 1 game at USD with a 3-3 conference record.

 “I think most people are surprised really,” Nagy said. “When you lose an NBA player and another guy in Tony who was a tremendous basketball player, I think they thought there’d be a drop off. … We had to adjust the way that we played but I expected to be in the hunt.”

The Jacks will play their first round game in the Summit League Tournament against the sixth seeded Western Illinois at 8:30 p.m. on Sunday, March 9 in Sioux Falls Arena.