Jackrabbit basketball teams head to Omaha


BROOKINGS – The South Dakota State men’s and women’s basketball teams play at Omaha tonight. 

The women are set to tip off against the Mavericks at 5 p.m. and the men will follow at 7:30 p.m. You can watch the games at omavs.com/watch.

Women

The Jackrabbit women are coming off of their first loss in conference play. SDSU (8-8, 4-1) got blown out against South Dakota on Saturday, 65-42.

“It was a tough game for us,” said SDSU head coach Aaron Johnston. “[It was] a game where, quite honestly, I didn’t think we played well at all. I thought we struggled in that game. In the first quarter we played well enough. We made some three’s and hung in there, but even then I didn’t think we had the right rhythm and even execution offensively that you need to play well on the road.” 

Johnston added that he thought SDSU’s game plan against USD was not good.

“I don’t think our plan was great against them,” Johnston said. “So that’s [USD] exposing that or taking advantage of that. I think our plan needs to be a little different and I think that’s something I can look back on as a coach and feel like this year, offensively when we’ve struggled, it has to do with getting us into the right plan or attack or offense. 

“We’ve been inconsistent with that this year. So for us as coaches, now that we have a little more of a set rotation, what’s going to be the best fit for this group going forward. ... [We need to find] that offensive plan that can be universal and you feel like you can go to against team’s.”

The Mavericks come into Thursday night with a record of 6-9 overall and 2-4 in the Summit League. 

Omaha upset SDSU as the No. 8 seed in the quarterfinals of the Summit League Tournament last season. Johnston said this year’s Mavericks squad is similar to the team that shocked the Jacks last March.

“I’d say [they’re] real similar [to last year]. Guard play has improved a little bit. They’re getting more offense from their perimiter players. I think they’re a little banged up, so we’ll see if maybe an injury brings them back to their traditional three, four, five. Their wing, forward and post. That group was really tough last year for us and other teams. So I think there is a lot of similarities and at the wing they’re probably further ahead,” he said.

Omaha is dead last in the Summit League in scoring, averaging 58.9 points per game. The Mavericks shoot 40.2% from the field, which is tied for eighth in the conference. They give up 63.7 points per game, which is fourth in the league and opponents shoot 39.5% against them, which is third.

Senior forward Mariah Murdy leads Omaha, averaging 11.4 points and 7.1 rebounds. Senior center Elena Pilakouta is not far behind Murdy, averaging 11.3 points and 5.2 rebounds.

The Jacks have the fourth ranked scoring offense in the Summit League, averaging 67.6 points per game. SDSU’s defense allows 62.9 points per game, which is third. 

Freshman point guard Paige Meyer leads the Jacks points per game (10.7), assists (3.9) and steals (1.1). She is one of four Division I freshman averaging at least that stat line.

Tori Nelson is second in the conference in field goal percentage, shooting 55%. She is averaging 9.3 points per game and 4.2 rebounds. Nelson has scored at least nine points in nine of the last 10 games.

The Jacks will stay on the road and play at Denver on Saturday at 3 p.m. Central time.

Men

The SDSU men will look to remain unbeaten in conference play Thursday. The Jacks (13-4, 4-0) took care of USD Saturday with a 84-65 win.

Omaha comes into the game having lost three of its last four. The Mavericks are 3-14 overall and 2-4 in conference play.

SDSU head coach Eric Henderson said the Jacks need to stick to their strengths if they want to improve to 5-0 in Summit League for the first time since the 2017-2018 season.

“We know [Omaha] is going to play fast,” he said. “They have a lot of knew faces. They can score it, they can shoot it. They really want a high possesion game, which we do too. We have to make sure we stay true to who we are and not chuck up some tough shots. 

“We need to make sure we stay true to our identity. Which is making sure we’re playing through the post, taking quality shots and sharing the basketball.”

The Mavericks are last in the Summit League in scoring offense and defense. They give up 80.5 points per game, while scoring just 66.6.

Senior Nick Ferrarini and junior Felix Lemetti lead the Mavs in scoring. The two guards average 10.5 and 10.4 points per game, respectively.

SDSU is the best 3-point shooting team in the country. The Jacks shoot 44.6% from beyond the arc. They are second in the country in field goal percentage at 51.5% and are third in the country in scoring, averaging 87.1 points per game. 

Even with those numbers and the 4-0 start to conference play, Henderson said his team is still a “work in progress” because of the way the Jacks have played defensively at times.

“I know we’ve had great moments,” Henderson said. “I know we’ve had times where I think offenisvely we’ve been elite. We shoot the basketball at a very high level, we’re second in scoring. And I say all that and we’re happy about all that, but what I’m probably most proud about is how our focus and our mentality on the defensive end, I believe, is getting closer to a championship team. We’re not there yet. 

“We have to become more consistent and have to play more connected for longer stretches. Rebounding, we’ve gone in some stretches where we’ve given up second chance points way too many times, but it’s getting better. ... That’s where I still feel like we can get better and more consistent as far as our mentality and rebounding too.”

SDSU has played its past three games without leading scorer Noah Freidel. Henderson has said it is a basketball decision and he is playing who he thinks will help him win games. 

In his abscense, sophomore Baylor Scheierman and freshman Zeke Mayo have stepped up. The two have combined for 73 points the past two games, while shooting 64.3% from the field.

SDSU will return home on Saturday to take on Denver at 2 p.m.

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