Mastodons escape Jacks to advance

The SDSU men’s basketball team suffered a heartbreaker at the hands of the Fort Wayne Mastodons who emerged from a tightly contested game with a 64-60 victory and advanced to the Summit League Championship game.

The two teams split the regular season series and tied in the standings so it was no surprise that they came out and played such a competitive game, each knowing that they had to win to keep their NCAA Tournament dreams alive.

Key to the Mastodons’ victory was freshman Mo Evans who made five first half threes and added another in the second half to set a new career high.

“I was just going out there doing my best trying to win the game and get to our first championship,” Evans said.

Also hampering the Jacks in the first half were turnovers, as they gave it away 10 times in the first half and eight more in the second half.  In total, IPFW scored 22 points off of those turnovers.

“We’re not a great ball-handling team. When we saw some pressure from teams, we would turn it over,” head coach Scott Nagy said. “I think their quickness hurts, we weren’t able to take advantage of our size like I’d like to.”

Meanwhile, the Jackrabbits struggled to give Jordan Dykstra opportunities. Dykstra was held scoreless until the final second of the half when he sank a buzzer beater, sending the teams into their locker rooms with IPFW up 30-24. Dykstra would score nine points in the game.

“I thought that one of our major focuses for the game was trying to get South Dakota State to play around the perimeter, not allow them to get the ball moving to where you’ve got to create some sort of help and recover situation, because where he’s really good is playing off of others and they’re really good at finding him,” IPFW head coach Tony Jasick said. “And the key to defending that is keeping the guy in front of you and not creating any help and recover situations.”

In the second half SDSU outscored IPFW 36-34 and held advantages in shooting percentage and rebounds, but ultimately they could never quite make up the difference and found themselves down by one or two possessions going down the stretch.

The Jackrabbits did have one chance in the end to tie the game after Pierre Bland missed the front end of a one-and-one, but Brayden Carlson’s three-point attempt bounced off the rim with 10 seconds left and was rebounded by Joe Reed, and then Bland sank a free throw to seal it.

Steve Forbes finished with 10 points inside for IPFW and pulled down eight rebounds. Bland finished the night with 12 points.

Carlson led the SDSU effort, playing the full 40 minutes despite finding himself knocked to the floor multiple times. He scored a game high 19 points with three rebounds, three assists and three steals.

“His effort’s been great all year,” Nagy said of Carlson. “When we do lose him, he is going to be a tough one to lose. He cares deeply about his teammates. We played him the minutes we played Nate last year. He’s given us everything he has.”

Despite Nagy worrying about the health of his knee going into the tournament, Chad White finished with 10 points and seven rebounds in 37 minutes of play. Larson added nine points and eight rebounds and Heemsta scored five.

After being questionable going into the game and watching Zach Horstman start in his place, Jake Bittle came off the bench to contribute six points and six rebounds.

“Jake’s having a problem with his foot,” Nagy said. “We got him through the first game, got him through the second half. We didn’t think he was going to play – it was a game time decision. I’m concerned at this point whether Jake will be able to play.”

If and where Jake would play again this year is uncertain, but coach Nagy said that he hoped the Jacks would have a chance to play in a postseason tournament. One goal of his is for the team to earn win number 20. In the meantime he says they have to work on getting over Monday’s loss.

“There’s a lot of pain involved in it, we need to work through that- the denial, the anger. I do, I don’t know if the players do, but I do,” Nagy said. “But it’s still living. When you put your heart into something and you got either elation or your just crushed – that’s living.”

On the other end of the spectrum, IPFW advances to Tuesday night’s championship game against NDSU at 8:00 p.m. NDSU enters the game coming off of an 83-48 pummeling of Denver in their semifinal game.