College Men's Basketball

Jackrabbits cruise to victory over Denver

South Dakota State jumps out to 14-0 lead, comes away with a 97-70 win on Thursday night

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BROOKINGS — South Dakota State had it rolling at Frost Arena on Thursday night as the Jackrabbits beat Denver 97-70.

SDSU (16-12, 9-4) began the game with a 14-0 run and never looked back. It was the second-straight victory for the Jacks and the fourth in their past five games. SDSU head coach Eric Henderson has preached about having better energy, effort and enthusiasm this season, and fifth-year guard Matt Mims said he felt this was one of the best showings of those three things for the Jacks.

“We knew that we were really going to have to bring it tonight. Denver is a great team. We knew it was going to be a group effort and something that would definitely help us is playing with that energy and effort that we know that we’re capable of doing. That definitely helped us win the game,” Mims said.

SDSU pushed its early lead to 19-2 and then led 30-10 with 11:53 to play in the first half. Denver then went on a 13-3 run to close the gap to 33-23 with 8:21 left in the half. SDSU pushed the lead up to 42-28 but the Pioneers cut the lead to 50-41 heading into halftime.

The Jacks started the second half similarly to the way they started the game as they came out of the break with a 14-2 run to extend the lead to 64-43 with 15:43 left in the game. SDSU’s lead hung around 20 points for most of the second half and the Jacks’ largest lead of the game was the final score.

SDSU shot 57.1% from the field and was 12-of-28 from three. The Jacks had 19 assists and Henderson said they did a great job of sharing the ball on Thursday night.

“I thought we shared it really well. When we got that ball inside, and they were doubling in the post early and then our bigs were really unselfish. That allowed us to get some open shots on the perimeter and that’s important and our guys were able to knock them down,” Henderson said.

The Jacks were led by Mims who had 21 points and knocked down four 3-pointers. He had been on a bit cold streak over the past three games and Henderson said it was nice to see the ball go in the basket when he shot it.

“[Mims] has been struggling a bit. I think the last three games he was 3-of-18 from the field. To his credit, he doesn’t complain. He just gets in and works, and then works a little harder. What’s really nice is to see him get rewarded for that work,” Henderson said.

Zeke Mayo had 20 points and five rebounds for SDSU. Charlie Easley had 15 points and William Kyle III had 12 points and six boards. Kalen Garry was the other Jackrabbit in double figures and he had 10 points.

Denver (15-14, 6-8) was led by the nation’s top scorer, Tommy Bruner. He averages 25.3 points per game and on Thursday night he scored 21 points. However, Bruner went 2-of-6 from the field in the second half and scored just four points in the second frame.

He let his frustrations out two times during the game. The first incident happened as the buzzer sounded for halftime and Bruner elbowed Mims in the face and received a technical foul. The second incident was with Mims again and this time Bruner threw him to the ground after the whistle late in the second half. He was charged with a flagrant one and was allowed to stay in the game.

Henderson said he liked the way his team guarded Bruner, even if it did get a little chippy on Thursday night.

“[Bruner] is so tough and he’s so versatile,” Henderson said. “[The game at Denver] they had 20 assists. I’m not sure how many [points] Tommy had, but I’m sure it was close to 30. He kind of did everything [in that game], so we made a conscious effort that we have to take away some things. You’re not going to be able to take away everything, so we tried to limit some of their assisted field goals. “… I liked the way our guys competed and their composure. Obviously, it got a little chippy in there. It’s unfortunate, but it gets frustrating. They’re competitors and they’re competing and there can be some frustrations on both sides. You just have to be real careful and stay competitive.”

Denver shot 43.1% from the field and was 7-of-26 from three. The Pioneers had two other players score in double figures. Touko Tainamo had 22 points and Jaxon Brenchley had 17 points and six rebounds.

SDSU had 36 rebounds and Denver had 31. The Jacks had 11 turnovers and the Pioneers had 11. SDSU was 21-of-28 at the free throw line and Denver was 13-of-21.

The Jacks are now tied with North Dakota for first place in the Summit League. SDSU had a come-from-behind overtime victory last weekend against Omaha. That followed by this 27-point win, SDSU has some momentum heading into its final three games, but Mayo said the Jacks can’t bank on momentum getting them wins down the stretch.

“I think [the win over Omaha] showed how connected we can be and when we’re connected on both ends of the floor, we’re a hard team to beat. It feels like momentum right now, but we have a tough one on Saturday with St. Thomas coming in here. They’re a great team as well. Every game we play is going to be a battle. As long as we stay within ourselves and stay as a connected group, I believe we can get the job done on any given night,” Mayo said.