Jackrabbit men top Omaha, win third straight

(Andrew Holtan/Register) South Dakota State's Alex Arians shoots a 3-pointer during an 84-61 victory over Omaha on Thursday night at Frost Arena in Brookings.

BROOKINGS – The South Dakota State men won their third straight game on Thursday night as the Jackrabbits defeated the Omaha Mavericks 84-61.

SDSU (10-9, 5-2) shot 53.6% from the field and was 12-22 from three. The Jacks held the Mavericks (7-13, 3-5) to 41.4% from the field and they were 4-12 from deep. SDSU head coach Eric Henderson said he thought the Jacks’ success on offense began with how they played on defense.

“Our defense started things, to be honest. I thought our guys’ connectivity on the defensive end, our focus on the game plan and our commitment to accomplish what we wanted to accomplish got done. … Really just our connectivity on the defensive end translated to the offense. We were able to get the ball moving from side-to-side and shared it at a high level,” Henderson said.

Zeke Mayo led the Jackrabbits with 31 points and scored 18 of them in the second half. It was the third time this season that Mayo has scored 30 points or more and he said he was taking what the defense was giving him.

“My teammates were setting me up to get some great shots [in the second half]. I was trying to facilitate, whether it was for me or my teammates, and that’s what I did,” he said.

SDSU trailed 11-10 seven minutes into the game and the Jacks then went on a 12-2 run to go up 22-13 with 7:38 left in the first half. The Jacks would extend their lead to double digits in the final seven minutes of the first half and William Kyle III’s put back at the buzzer gave them a 41-26 lead going into halftime.

SDSU fed the ball inside a lot in the first half and finished with 30 points in the paint on Tuesday night. Henderson has preached that SDSU needs to get paint touches if it wants to have success and he said that it really slows things down for the Jacks.

“[Getting the ball inside] calms us down,” Henderson said. “At the end of the day, when the ball goes into the post, and that can be in a lot of different ways, whether you throw it to them with their back to the basket or guards are attacking downhill or whatever, when the ball goes there and into the paint it slows things down for everybody else and puts the defense in a pretty tough spot and they have to make decisions. Our guys did good job of deciding when to be aggressive and looking to score at the basket and when to share it.”

SDSU led 50-35 five minutes into the second half and then went on a 7-0 run to push the lead to 22 with 13:18 to play. Omaha would then respond with a 13-0 run to make it 57-48 with eight minutes left. Just when the Mavs thought they were back in it, Mayo banked in a step-back three as the shot clock expired and Alex Arians followed with a three of his own to make it 69-52 with five minutes left.

Henderson said that sequence really pushed the Jacks in the right direction and Mayo led them to the victory.

“… Obviously when [Mayo] banked it in, that one probably deflated [Omaha] a bit, and deservedly so. Zeke was terrific again tonight. Obviously, we’ve continued to help him grow and we’re proud of how he’s really grown with the mental part of the game more than anything,” Henderson said.

Mayo and Arians combined to go 10-13 from three on the night. Matt Mims also went 2-4 from beyond the arc and it was the best the Jacks have shot from three all season long. Arians pointed back to the defense getting things started for SDSU.

“I think, as crazy as it seems, getting stops on the defensive end really allows our offense to come together. We really thrive, and we always talk about, just make the right play. Pass to whoever is open, and if you continue to do that the ball will come back to you and we’ll continue to get open shots,” Arians said.

Arians had 16 points on the night. William Kyle III had 12 points and eight rebounds. Mims and Matt Dentlinger each had eight points. Matthew Mors had seven points.

The Mavericks were led by Frankie Fidler who had 13 points. eight rebounds and four assists. Marquel Sutton had 12 points and six rebounds. JJ White had 12 points and Tony Osburn and Akol Arop each had eight points.

The Mavericks won the rebound battle 35-32. SDSU had just eight turnovers and Omaha had 12. The Jacks went 12-17 at the free throw line and the Mavs went 9-14.

SDSU has now won five of its past six conference games after a 39-point loss to Oral Roberts to open Summit League play. Henderson said he feels as though the Jacks are inching closer to becoming a finished product and are gaining momentum.

“I think we’re getting closer [to finding an identity]. I don’t want to be a finished product on January whatever it is. We have a lot of season left. We’re looking forward to getting Charlie [Easley] healthy and were hoping early February, and we know what kind of player he is. He fits in with this group unbelievably. … I think we’re getting closer to our identity and understanding what we can be. We’re certainly seeing more signs of it, and that’s what coach wants to see, and we have to continue to get better,” Henderson said.

SDSU will host Denver on Saturday in the Pork Classic. Tip off scheduled for 2 p.m. and you can watch the game on Midco Sports 2.