Hot shooting downs Jackrabbits in loss at Purdue

Spencer Chase

The Jackrabbits missed out on their chance to turn their dancing shoes into Cinderella slippers.

In a game that saw an effort from SDSU that head coach Aaron Johnston called “pretty good, but not great,” the 14th-seeded Jacks fell to third-seeded Purdue 83-68 in West Lafayette, Ind., in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. The Jacks also allowed an NCAA Tournament record nine 3-pointers from one player, Courtney Moses, who finished with a game-high 29 points and helped the Jacks to their third straight one-and-done appearance.

“Moses was really good. We lost her a lot on screens along the baseline, and that cost us,” Johnston said.

Most of Purdue’s offensive efficiency came from their precise half court sets and screening ability, which created open space for their perimeter players to work.

“There’s no stat for it, but they screen as well as any team that we play and those post players are excellent at doing that. They know how to get guards open, and it’s hard to get through,” Johnston said.

Playing in their final game as SDSU Jackrabbits, Jill Young and Jennie Sunnarborg scored 19 and 17 points, respectively. Both players finish as members of the 1,000-point club and will be remembered as all-time greats, but they still wish they could have gone further.

“Jill and I going into this game were thinking, ‘We’re seniors. We’re going to fight as much as we can and do everything that we possibly can to get a win.’ That didn’t happen for us today, which is a disappointment,” Sunnarborg said.

With their final efforts, Young and Sunnarborg finished 15th and 23rd, respectively, in SDSU all time scoring. Young also broke the Summit League three-pointer career record.

SDSU struggled to get stops when it counted but never really fell out of the game until late, which has been a characteristic of the Jackrabbits’ last three tournament appearances. The Jacks actually pulled down three more rebounds than the Boilermakers, and, despite Moses’ record-setting nine three-pointer performance, the Jacks only made one less from long range than Purdue.

The talk this week was about how the Jacks wanted to take a step forward in this game. They did, but saw themselves fall short once again.

“We were better today, I thought, than we were the last two (NCAA Tournament) trips, Oklahoma and Xavier, to be honest with you. Overall, I thought it was a very good game for us, it’s just Purdue played a little bit better game than we did. I was proud of our team,” Johnston said.

In a game that, despite what the scoreboard said, was a defensive struggle, KK Houser led the charge for Purdue. Houser ran a full court pressure by herself, was able to generate turnovers early in the game and finished the game with five steals.

“My defense is what gets me going and I just get confidence off my defense, so getting steals early in the game was huge for me,” Houser said.

Houser, who finished the game with 12 points, also scored seven of Purdue’s first 11 points and was one of three players in double figures for Purdue along with Moses’ 29 and Rayburn’s 12.

Purdue found support from a small but supportive crowd, something has SDSU knew would be the case again this year.

“We’re in a situation where the majority of our games on the women’s side very well could be [at home sites]. We’re going to have to get better at these kind of environments and learn how to get done what we need to.”

With the season-ending loss, the Jackrabbits finished 24-9 for the year and made their fourth straight NCAA Tournament appearance — but it is also their third consecutive season heading back to Brookings after just one game. The head coach said that he’s happy with where the program is, but it’s hard not to look ahead.

“I am really pleased with the progress of our program. I am a little frustrated that we haven’t taken another step in the tournament,” Johnston said. “If we’re going to take that next step, we’re going to have to figure out ways to win at this event.”