The Jackrabbits throttled Summit League newcomer South Dakota in a relatively uneventful 30-point pounding on Jan. 12 in Brookings. On Feb. 9, the Coyotes nearly returned the favor.
USD controlled much of the game and then hung on for dear life against SDSU for a 72-68 win in front of 5,189 raucous fans at the DakotaDome in Vermillion, losing a game that seemed to be a sure-fire win not too long ago.
“We knew that this would be a big game for them and we should have approached it the same way,” SDSU Head Coach Scott Nagy said.
The game might have had the same meaning to both teams. USD didn’t play that way.
The Coyotes (9-14, 4-10 Summit) opened the first half in red-hot fashion. Louie Krogman, who was held in check during the first meeting, hit four first-half three pointers and the Coyotes led 29-8 with eight minutes left. The Jackrabbits (19-7, 11-3 Summit) were provoked only a little to close the gap in the game and pulled within 10 points at halftime, 34-24. The Jackrabbits made nine first-half field goals, none from three-point range, while the Coyotes burned the Jackrabbits by slowing down the game with a three-man perimeter dribble weave and a hot Krogman.
“They got after us and we didn’t respond very well,” SDSU’s Chad White said.
The second half proved to be more of the same until the Jackrabbits finally found a rally behind their three-point shot. Even then, USD was able to stay ahead by shooting 68 percent in the second half.
SDSU finally pulled the game within six points after a three-pointer from Wolters with 2:45 left. He followed it up with another three-pointer to put the Jackrabbits three points behind USD, leaving momentum firmly in the hands of the Jackrabbits and temporarily deflating the Dome.
USD forward Ricardo Anderotti slammed a dunk to put the Coyotes up five with 30 seconds left and a Griffan Callahan three-pointer pulled the game to within two at 70-68. The ‘Yotes pushed the lead back to three points and SDSU had two chances in the final 10 seconds to get closer with one-and-one free throw chances. But crunch time came and both Tony Fiegen and Wolters missed on the front end. Then, SDSU’s last chances were extinguished when USD’s Trevor Gruis made one free throw to decide the final difference on the scoreboard.
“It’s in our players’ hands,” Nagy said. “They’re going to decide how they want this to go. My expectation would be they’ll bounce back, but we’re facing another team that we handled pretty well, and I’m sure they’re not happy about it.”
The Coyotes got 22 points from Krogman and 18 points from Charlie Westbrook in the win. Both were severely limited in the first meeting in Brookings.
“This was the way it should be,” USD Head Coach Dave Boots said of the rivalry. “When you look at what happened here tonight, that’s why this rivalry will continue and be better than it ever was.”
The game draws striking parallels to the Jackrabbits’ Dec. 15 debacle of a defeat at North Dakota, in which the Jackrabbits played poorly against the lowly squad in Grand Forks after pounding UND five days earlier in Brookings. In both cases, SDSU lost in the home of a former North Central Conference member in disappointing fashion.
“We definitely should have learned our lesson at UND. It was the exact same thing,” Wolters said.
Wolters scored 27 points, but it took him exactly that many shots to reach that number. White was the only player to have a consistent night throughout for the Jacks, ending with 17 points. The loss dashed any hopes the Jackrabbits had to win the regular season conference title, leaving SDSU two and a half games back from first place.
“It’s a bad loss because it’s a conference loss and we were trying to compete for a conference championship and it doesn’t make any sense for us not to show up,” Nagy said.