BROOKINGS – The South Dakota State men’s and women’s basketball teams hit the road for the second consecutive weekend.
This weekend the Jackrabbits have a pair of games against North Dakota State.
The women’s games are set to start at 5 p.m. and the men are scheduled to tip off at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
The Jacks received a tough blow to their roster Wednesday as Noah Freidel announced he will not play the rest of the season due to mental health issues.
“After meeting coach [Eric Henderson] and my family, we have decided that I am not going to play for a remainder of the year as I have been struggling with some depression and anxiety and I am going to take this time to work through these mental health issues. I’m so thankful to be surrounded by amazing teammates and I can’t wait to get back on the floor with them,” Freidel said during a weekly press conference Wednesday.
SDSU head coach Eric Henderson said basketball has to take a back seat in situations like this and he supports Freidel’s decision.
“I’m certainly proud of [Freidel] for having the courage to come up here and explain what he’s been going through. I know it’s not easy, but we all love him and to be honest with you I’m just looking forward to helping him grow and get healthy and I know that there’s going to be amazing growth after this,” Henderson said.
Freidel is second on the team in scoring averaging 16 points per game. He played 17 minutes in a 103-86 loss against Oral Roberts Feb. 13. He went 0-for-7 from the field and 0-for-5 from 3 in that game. Freidel sat out of the second game against ORU where the Jacks came away with a 95-80 victory.
Henderson said his team is ready for the challenge of facing the rest of the season without one of their best players.
“We’re excited. We’re excited for this coming weekend. Any time that you’re able to play meaningful games in late February and early March. That’s pretty cool for your team and that’s the reason why a lot of our players come to South Dakota State because we’ve been in that situation for quite some time. Going up to North Dakota State we know it’s going to be a challenge. They’re well coached. They have good players. They don’t beat themselves. It’s a hard place to play.
“As far as our plan, it’s important for us to worry about the Jackrabbits and it’s important for us to continue getting better every day. … We’re going to be ourselves. We have players that are ready to step up to the plate and have stepped up to the plate. [Freidel not playing] doesn’t really change much for us. We’re going to continue to do what we do and be the best version of the Jackrabbits,” Henderson added.
SDSU comes into the weekend tied for first place with NDSU and South Dakota. NDSU is led by center Rocky Kruser, who is averaging 14.8 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. Tyree Eady and Sam Griesel each average 11 points per game for the Bison.
“There’s no secret that these next two weeks for multiple teams in our league are pretty important,” Henderson noted. “I think the teams that are still in the mix for a conference championship have circled these last two weeks for some time. It’s probably something that’s not too big of a surprise.
“Like I said before, [NDSU] is extremely talented and it’s important that we take just one game at a time and put the best version of ourselves together. We need to get more consistent. The last two weekends quite honestly we played one good game and one poor game each weekend. We’re just looking at Friday night against North Dakota State and let’s just have a good effort and play the way that makes us successful.”
The Jacks gave up over 100 points in the first game against Oral Roberts. It was the first time SDSU had given up over 100 since Jan. 3, 2019, when they lost to Purdue Fort Wayne 104-88. Henderson said he felt like his team just wasn’t connected on that end of the floor against ORU and they couldn’t handle Max Abmas, who scored 42 points.
“Max Abmas was special. He made some hard shots, but we also didn’t make them earn some of their baskets. Going back on film, they scored 24 points that I just felt they didn’t earn. It’s not necessarily how many points you give up because we play a high possession game, so you’re going to give up more points than some other teams. It’s just how they’re getting them. He made some tough shots, but on the other hand we gave some easy shots too. I just felt like we weren’t connected on the defensive end as we needed to be. We talked about it on Saturday night after the game and that’s what I was really proud of our guys for. On Sunday, we were super connected on the defensive end and we still gave up a lot of points, but I thought we made them earn some baskets,” Henderson said.
The Jacks have just four games left in the regular season. If the Summit League Tournament started today, SDSU would be the No. 3 seed because they have played four less conference games than both NDSU and USD.
The Jacks host Kansas City next weekend and NDSU travels to USD. The fight for the No. 1 seed in the tournament should play itself out in these next two weeks, but Henderson said he isn’t too worried about where the Jacks will end up.
“The No. 1 goal for us is to try to get better and try to make sure we’re playing our best at the right time,” Henderson said. “We’ve never in our program talked about how our goal is to win a championship. Our goal is to go to the NCAA Tournament. We don’t talk about those things. We talk about how are we going to get better today and how are we going to stay together. How are we going to stay connected and let’s get continue to get better every single day and if we put our best foot forward and play with an extreme amount of energy and togetherness, let the chips fall where they may.
“Sometimes your shots go in a little bit more than others and you’re going to win a certain game or you’re going to lose a certain game because they don’t and those are things you can’t control. So let’s worry about things we can control. Let’s worry about our energy. Let’s worry about our effort. Let’s worry about our togetherness and if we win, great. I like winning conference championships. I like going to the NCAA Tournament, but those things are part of the process. Those things are rewards to the process and we have to make sure our process is in a good shape.”
The SDSU women have won 14 straight games and are undefeated in conference play. If the Jacks sweep NDSU this weekend they will clinch at least a share of the Summit League regular-season championship and the No. 1 seed in the Summit League Tournament.
Standing in front of them is a team that is on the rise. North Dakota State, which is in Year 2 under head coach Jory Collins, is 14-4 overall and 9-3 in the Summit League. The Bison’s record might be a little misleading because they have yet to face SDSU and USD, but NDSU is vastly improved from a year ago.
NDSU finished last year with an overall record of 11-19 and 7-9 in the Summit League. The Bison are third in the conference in scoring defense giving up 62.6 points per game. They are led by sophomore guard Heaven Hamling, who is averaging 12.1 points per game.
“I think [NDSU’s] record says it all,” said SDSU head coach Aaron Johnston. “They’ve really turned a corner I think and even last year as the year went on you could see them getting better and better and that really carried over into this year. This year they’ve built on their system and their plan, but they also have some new faces. They added some transfers that were sitting out last year.
“So they’re improving what they do and their talent level is probably continuing to get better too. I really see them being a team that is going to be competitive going forward. … Defensively they are very good. Just really physical and kind of move you off your spots. Offensively they take care of the ball. Have good balance. That’s a team that has really good pieces to it and would think is going to continue to do well down the road.”
One of the reasons the Jacks have continued their win streak over the past couple weeks is improved bench play. They’ve gotten good minutes from freshman Madysen Vlastuin and junior Sydney Stapleton.
Stapleton scored a season-high 11 points in the first game against South Dakota and scored nine points in the first game against Oral Roberts last weekend. In those two games she was 6-for-7 from 3-poiont range.
Vlastuin scored a season-high 10 points in the first game against ORU and scored eight points in the first game against USD.
“[Stapleton and Vlastuin] have really worked on their games and not that they weren’t before, but in November and December both of them just had some off days shooting. Just never really got things going. Where they strung a lot of games together and a lot of shots together. Both are in the gym constantly working on their game and trying get better and get reps and just build that confidence. Both have really kind of improved their readiness to make shots in games. Sometimes good shooters miss shots because it’s a faster pace of games. Everything moves quicker and just trying to practice in way that you’re ready for that. I think both Sydney and Mady have done good job of practicing so they’re ready for those opportunities,” Johnston said.
The Jacks are led by junior Myah Selland and she is having one of the best seasons statistically we’ve seen from an SDSU player. Selland is leading the Summit League in scoring averaging 19.7 points per game. She is third in assists averaging 3.8 per game and fifth in rebounding averaging 6.9 a game.
Selland has won Summit League Player of the Week six times this season and is running away with the Summit League Player of the Year Award. Johnston said he sensed that this was coming.
“She’s playing at an incredibly high level,” Johnston said. “… Myah has just been fantastic. It’s her ability to do just about everything that is remarkable. Whether it’s a rebound, offensive or defensively. Getting a stop. She’s taking charges out there. She’s finding people, she’s making 3s. She just can do most everything on the floor at a really high level. She’s playing as well as anybody I’ve ever seen in our league and we’ve seen a lot of good players on our team and other teams. I’m not surprised at all. I think Myah in her first two years, as I’ve said, played through a ton of injuries. So she was never really healthy, so anything we saw from her at that point was still kind of scratching the surface. … It’s really her chance and her time to grow into a role she’s in right now.
“To her credit she’s worked incredibly hard to get here. Had to overcome some challenges. … Myah is playing as well as she is because she has someone like Paiton [Burckhard], Tylee [Irwin], Tori [Nelson] and other people around him too that compliment what Myah does.”