Strong second half lifts NDSU over SDSU men


SIOUX FALLS – Hot shooting in the second half from North Dakota State spoiled a second straight trip to Summit League championship for South Dakota State as the Bison beat the Jackrabbits 89-79 at the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center on Monday night.

No. 2 seeded SDSU trailed by 15 in the first half and was able to fight back and take the lead but the No. 3 seeded Bison shot 64.3% in the second half and were from 7-of-10 from three in the final 20 minutes.

“Well, we ran into a buzz saw tonight,” SDSU head coach Eric Henderson said. “Give [NDSU head coach Dave Richman] and his team a lot of credit. They played terrific. … We just kind of were fighting it the whole night and just couldn’t get it going. But to our guys’ credit, they had a ton of fight.”

The Bison had a 37-24 advantage in rebounds and NDSU’s Grant Nelson led the way with 22 rebounds, which was a Summit League Tournament single-game record, to go along with 20 points. Henderson said he thought his team didn’t play with enough physicality on Monday night.

“The rebounding has been a concern of mine for the whole year and we need to make sure we get better at it. We got out-rebounded again tonight and that was a big part of it early. [NDSU] played more physical tonight. They got some offensive rebounds and eight of their first 12 points came off of second chance points,” Henderson said.

The Jackrabbits fell behind 21-6 just over eight minutes into the game. SDSU then went on a 23-6 run over the next eight minutes to take a 29-27 lead with just under four minutes to play in the first half.

It would be the Bison that would carry momentum into the locker room though as they outscored the Jacks 13-5 in the final four minutes of the half and took a 40-34 lead into halftime. NDSU head coach Dave Richman said he talked to his team after the Jacks took the lead and a flip switched for the Bison, which is something that wouldn’t have happened earlier this year.

“We exchanged some un-pleasantries in the huddle during one of those media timeouts and that’s where we’ve grown so much. [Earlier in the season] we would have success and a team would punch back and we could just never rally. Basketball is a game of momentum, especially in a game like this. So, you talk about sometimes not seeing the growth in your own kids and that is visual growth right there and maturity,” he said.

SDSU would cut the lead to three points early in the second half but the Bison then went on a 16-4 run to push the lead back to 15 with 11 minutes to play. NDSU’s largest lead of the game came with 7:02 left when it led 74-53. The Jacks made a couple of runs in the final seven minutes but it was too little too late.

The Bison went 1-for-10 from three in the first 20 minutes and finished the game 8-of-20. Henderson said he thought as the lead grew for NDSU, the more confidence the Bison players had.

“They gave us a lot of challenges on defense. But when you have a 10 to 12-point lead, you’re able to let [shots] go a little more freely. We needed to get it a little closer and then the basket might have gotten a little smaller for some of those guys,” Henderson said.

NDSU shot 56.1% from the field for the game. Boden Skunberg led the Bison with 24 points. Damari Wheeler-Thomas had 17 points and Andrew Morgan had 14 points.

SDSU shot 44.4% from the field and was 11-of-22 from three. The Jacks were led by sixth-year senior Alex Arians who had 20 points and five assists. Matt Mims had 19 points.

Zeke Mayo had 18 points, but was 5-of-17 from the field. Mayo, who led SDSU in scoring this season, averaging over 18 points per game and shot 42.6% from the field this season, was 8-of-33 in the two games in the tournament. Henderson said Mayo was upset with his performance, but would not give any specifics as to why he thought he struggled.

Monday night’s attendance was 7,707 and once again it was mostly SDSU fans. The Bison had a two-point win over South Dakota on Sunday night in front of mostly Coyote fans and Nelson said his team loves playing in the hostile environment and is excited for Tuesday night’s championship matchup against undefeated Oral Roberts.

“It’s a great environment. Both nights were pretty much all South Dakota fans, which we love,” Nelson said.

SDSU fell to 19-13 on the season. With the loss, the Jacks failed to make the NCAA Tournament, but that doesn’t necessarily mean their season is over. Henderson said he hasn’t thought about whether or not SDSU would accept an invitation to National Invitational Tournament (NIT) or the College Basketball Invitational (CBI).

“I don’t think [about other postseason opportunities] right now. I didn’t even think we were going to lose. Every time we play I don’t think we’re going to lose, so that’s something that I haven’t even talked to our players about. I don’t know. There’s a lot of different things that go into why would you play and why you wouldn’t play and we’ll talk about that as a staff and an administration,” Henderson said.

Should the Jacks decide not to play in a postseason tournament, Arians, Matt Dentlinger and Aaron Fiegen will have put a Jackrabbit jersey on for the final time. In the time of the transfer portal in college basketball, you never know what your roster will look like heading into the next season, but Henderson said his guys will get back to work right away.

“How we’ve done it within our program, we don’t really have captains, we just expect all of our guys to represent our school with great character. We have five traits that we talk about all the time that are in a circle and it keeps us together. It’s just just kind of a next man up mentality and that’s how we go about things. We’re not going to feel sorry for ourselves for losing. We’re just going to get back on the court, we’ll give them a little time off and then we’ll start working,” Henderson said.