For the fourth time in as many years, the Jacks are dancing again.
SDSU eliminated a 17 point first half deficit to force overtime and punch their ticket to a fourth consecutive NCAA tournament appearance with a 78-77 overtime victory over UMKC at the Sioux Falls Arena on Tuesday.
To say the first half was all UMKC might be an understatement. UMKC scored the first nine points, pulled down 10 more rebounds than the Jacks, and went into the locker room with a nine point lead. UMKC dominated virtually every statistical category in the first half, and SDSU head coach Aaron Johnston said that the game was almost decided at that point.
“They dominated all of the first half. That last three minutes, we went on an 11-3 run. Without that run, we certainly don’t come back.” Johnston said.
Highlighted by three-pointers from Jill Young and Gabby Boever, the Jacks finished with the aforementioned run and entered the second half down 36-27. The Jacks started with the ball in the second half, and started playing like a completely different team in comparison to the prior 20 minutes. Starting the half with a 9-3 run largely fueled by Leah Dietel, the Jacks were able to keep themselves in what would prove to be a highly competitive basketball game.
“(Dietel) hasn’t gotten enough credit for this particular game. Someone who has never been a big offensive player, but she had nine points, probably the biggest nine points of her season so far,” Johnston said.
The go-ahead points were scored by Jill Young on two free throws with seven seconds left. Young said that
“I just had to go to the line with confidence. I’ve shot a lot of free throws in my life, so there wasn’t any doubt or hesitation in my mind. I just had to go up there and know they were going in,” Young said.
Johnston said Tara Heiser played exceptionally well starting in place of the injured Steph Paluch, who could frequently be seen cheering enthusiastically from the bench.
“She hyperextended her knee in the game the other day too, so she wasn’t 100% by any means,” Johnston said. “She played great. We’ve got a lot of confidence in Tara too.”
Sunnarborg was named the Summit League Tournament MVP, finishing the game with 12 points and nine rebounds. Sunnarborg and Young, who tied with Ashley Eide for the team high in points, were named to the All-Tournament team. Johnston said that the Jacks’ two seniors have left an sizable impression on the face of the program.
“Legacy is a great word for those seniors. Four times…that is unbelievable. It’s easy to describe how difficult it is to get to an NCAA Tournament, and to get to four is just unbelievable,” Johnston said.
For UMKC, Dayon Hall-Jones led all scorers with 23 points, and Kim Nezianya scored 15 points and pulled down a game-high 11 rebounds. Hall-Jones and Nezianya were also named to the all-tournament team.
Down one with seven seconds left, Hall-Jones drove down the floor largely uncontested until she reached the lane.
“I felt that I did maybe get a little bump, but the ball didn’t go in and that’s just it. I know that refs aren’t gonna make that call at the end of the game … the ball didn’t go in the hole, and that’s the end of the story,” said a very emotional Hall-Jones after the game.
Nezianya, one of three returning starters for UMKC, was adamant that the returning group would be determined to make a return to this game next year.
“Just wanting to win got us this far. This is not that last of UMKC, we will be back next year,” Nezianya said fighting through a steady stream of tears.
SDSU now awaits the selection committee to decide just where they get to put on their dancing shoes this time. The pairings will be announced Mar. 12 and the tournament will open up Mar. 17 or 18.
“I can’t say I would have thought of (four straight appearances),” Sunnarborg said when asked about entering SDSU as a freshman. “Our program has advanced every single year since I’ve been here as a freshman. It’s just exciting.”