College Men's Basketball

Jackrabbits hope to find consistent play down the stretch

SDSU looks to build off overtime win at Omaha

Posted

BROOKINGS — The South Dakota State men are coming off what might have been their most impressive win of the year as the Jackrabbits beat Omaha in overtime on the road on Saturday.

SDSU trailed by six points with 49 seconds left and scored six-straight points to force overtime. The Jacks then outscored the Mavericks 12-4 in the extra period and improved to 15-12 overall and 8-4 in the Summit League.

Eric Henderson said he felt before the game that the Jackrabbit players understood the importance of leaving Omaha with a win after falling to Kansas City two days before.

“I think it was a pretty big [win] and I think our guys felt that heading into the game. … We practiced great on Friday. Our guys’ intentions, enthusiasm and effort was excellent, so I could feel that our guys knew that it was a big game. … Late [in the game], our guys’ value of each possession was huge and their understanding of how big of a game it was. Their positivity and ability to get the game to overtime was special,” Henderson said.

The energy, effort and enthusiasm that Henderson is talking about has not been consistent for SDSU this season and that has resulted in inconsistent play, at least for Jackrabbit standards. The Jacks won their first two conference games of the season but then lost by 19 points to Denver. They followed that up with three-straight wins but then dropped two-straight after that. SDSU then won its next two games before falling to Kansas City.

There’s been double the amount of wins in conference play than losses but SDSU has yet to go on a five or six game win streak like in year’s past. Henderson acknowledged the biggest difference in when his team plays well and when their play drops off is not showing up with the right attitude day in and day out.

“I think it’s all about energy, effort and enthusiasm. I think it’s our responsibility as a staff to make sure our guys understand the value of bringing your best every single day. It’s not always easy to do that, but that’s what we need to do. That’s what our expectations are and I think that’s something that we’re still striving to do on an everyday basis at our best,” Henderson said.

Henderson added that his team has made great strides over the past five games. They came away with three wins during that stretch and one of the losses was in overtime.

“I will say this, I’m really proud of our guys because I do feel like [the energy, effort and enthusiasm] has gotten way better in the past two to three weeks and that’s important. I know that we’re for the most part judged on wins and losses. I respect that and understand what I signed up for, but that Kansas City game our effort was terrific. … You can’t just look at the wins and losses and say that our energy, effort and enthusiasm wasn’t there because we lost. Well, the other team is trying to win too. … I think that’s something that we’re still striving for, is being conscious of [energy, effort and enthusiasm] on a every second basis, and we’ve made great strides in it.”

It won’t get any easier on Thursday when Denver comes to Brookings. The Pioneers are 15-13 overall and 6-7 in the Summit League, but are led by the nation’s top scorer. Fifth year guard Tommy Bruner is averaging 25.2 points per game and he scored 26 in a 99-80 win over SDSU on Jan. 13.

Henderson said the issue with guarding Bruner is he’s not just a one man show. The Jacks found that out first hand when Pedro Lopez Sanvicente scored 23 points and Touko Tainamo and DeAndre Craig combined for 23 points against them.

“He’s a terrific player and we have a ton of respect for him. The thing that I think makes him really special is he’s not just scoring. He’s creating opportunities for others on his team too. To score it in so many different ways. His change of pace is terrific. When he sees space, he attacks it relentlessly and is a great finisher inside the paint too. … It’s kind of like picking your poison with Tommy,” Henderson said.

Heading into the final four games of the regular season, three games separate seventh-place Omaha and first place North Dakota. UND is half of a game ahead of the Jackrabbits but SDSU could move into a tie for first place if they beat the Pioneers on Thursday.

With a win over the Pioneers the Jacks will have also beaten every team in the conference. The Summit League Tournament, which will be played March 8-12 in Sioux Falls, should be a doozy as it seems any team could punch their ticket to the NCAA tournament.

Henderson said there is certainly the most parity that he’s seen in the conference, but that hasn’t resulted in his team taking the regular season less seriously.

“I think with the parity [in the conference], everybody has hope. You’ve seen multiple teams, including ours, play great, and then next night it’s not their best effort. But I’m sure most coaches in our league can say that, to be frank with you. … I can’t speak for others, but I don’t look at it like [we can have a less sense of urgency because everyone is so close in the standings]. I want to make sure we’re competing at our best and we want to be consistent and show habits. We haven’t maybe done that to the best of our abilities, but I’m not going to stop trying,” Henderson said.

Tip off between the Jackrabbits and Pioneers is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday and you can watch the game on Midco Sports Two or the Summit League Network. SDSU will play its final game in Frost Arena on Saturday and the Jacks will take on St. Thomas at 2 p.m. You can watch that game on SLN.