Jackrabbits stand one win from Big Dance


One step closer.

SDSU’s men’s basketball team is one win away from unparalleled school history after a 63-47 win over Southern Utah in the Summit League tournament semifinals Monday night in Sioux Falls.

The second-seeded Jackrabbits (26-7) will meet the fourth-seed Western Illinois, who upset top-seed Oral Roberts earlier in the night, at 8 p.m Tuesday night.

In front of a dominant crowd of 6,448 at the Sioux Falls Arena, SDSU jumped to an early 8-2 advantage before the Jackrabbits fell into a lull on that crowd support and noise wouldn’t be enough. The lead teetered for most of the first half and SDSU finally went to the locker room with a one-point advantage That was because the Jacks couldn’t hold their own inside and with a weak first 20 minutes in the books, senior leadership took over.

“In the first half, they just beat us up and they were just so much more physical than we were. We shot too many threes and we were just too soft and they were more physical,” SDSU head coach Scott Nagy said. “It was hard for me to watch.” I know this to be a fact that before I ever got to them, Griffan [Callahan] had already talked to everybody about that, making sure that it was taken care of.

“We got our butts kicked inside,” Jordan Dykstra said simply.

The situation was rectified early in the second half, when SDSU opened the second half on a 16-3 run to stretch the lead to 14 points. 11 of those points came from the Jackrabbits’ two all-league selections in Dykstra and Nate Wolters, who combined for 48 of the 63 points.

“In the second half, we got the ball inside to Jordan and Tony [Fiegen] and they kind of got things going and that opened things up for me,” Wolters said, who finished the game with 31 points, the 10th time in his career his crossed 30 points in a game.

Consider it a sharp contrast to where the Jackrabbits were one year ago in the semifinals, suffering a 20-point loss to Oakland and allowing 110 points to the high-powered Golden Grizzlies. Now more defensively-minded, SDSU was able to stop the offensively hot Thunderbirds.

“That’s the only difference in our basketball team. We don’t score as many points as we did last year and we don’t have to because we’re better defensively,” Nagy said.

Southern Utah failed to find the bucket enough early in the second half, making just seven shots in the second half. In the end, SDSU proved to be too much. The Thunderbirds were dealt a bad blow early in the first half when top scorer Jackson Stevenett had to leave the game with an injury.

“I’m not making excuses. I just feel bad for the young man, who has had so much strength and character all year for our basketball team,” Southern Utah head coach Roger Reid said.

With ORU knocked from contention, Nagy said there was no cheering about the Western Illinois victory, despite the roar from the crowd when the first game was over.

“We better have ourselves prepared because I know [WIU head coach Jim Molinari] will have his ready. I don’t think we have to remind our players,” Nagy said.

If the Jackrabbits are on the ladder of success, they are at the top rung. The prize is one win closer for a school and a state that has never been.

“This is definitely why you work hard the whole season and in the offseason and why you put in all of the hours in the gym. It’s going to be a lot of fun,” Wolters said.