VERMILLION – Despite losing another player to a season-ending injury, the South Dakota State women won their 11th straight game on Saturday night as the Jackrabbits beat South Dakota 70-55.
Junior forward Madysen Vlastuin, who was SDSU’s leader in minutes played entering Saturday, suffered a season-ending knee injury in Thursday’s win over North Dakota State. She was averaging 7.2 points per game and was the team leader in 3-pointers made with 43. Vlastuin is the third Jackrabbit to suffer a season-ending injury this season as Haleigh Timmer and Kallie Theisen suffered injuries in the offseason.
SDSU head coach Aaron Johnston said it was hard for the team to regroup after finding out Vlastuin was done for the season, but he liked the way they handled the adversity.
“Yesterday was tough,” Johnston said. “Yesterday at practice when we found out the news about [Vlastuin], there were a lot of tears. Just a lot of tears from all of us. It doesn’t mean toughness is an absence of compassion and even having to mourn a little bit those injuries and losses. We’ve had to work through a lot of that.
“ … Despite injuries, we still have a lot of talent on this team. … Everyone kind of picked themselves up after an emotional afternoon yesterday and just decided that we’re going to work through both of these. We’re going to handle adversity and be the best we can for each other.”
It was a slow start for SDSU (17-5, 9-0) as the Jackrabbits trailed 15-7 at the end of the first quarter. The Jacks trailed by nine three minutes into the second quarter and were down 25-17 with just under four minutes to go in the half. SDSU then closed the half on a 12-0 run to take a 29-25 lead into halftime.
Johnston said he was proud of the way his team fought back after falling behind early.
“We didn’t get rattled, which is not a surprise because this year we haven’t. You know, we got down. We honestly just missed a lot of shots. We weren’t rushing. It wasn’t turnovers. Just missed shots early. They hit a couple three’s in the first half and got a lead, but we just kept fighting and found some rhythm,” Johnston said.
SDSU went up 37-28 with 7:35 left in the third but the Coyotes (16-8, 5-4) then cut the lead to 39-35 at the midway point of the quarter. The Jacks then had another strong end to a quarter as they closed the third quarter on a 13-6 run and led 52-41 heading into the fourth.
The Jacks then led 61-50 with four minutes to play and went on a 9-0 run to put the game away.
SDSU shot 45.6% from the field and was 9-of-24 from three. Brooklyn Meyer led the Jacks with 22 points, nine rebounds and two blocks. Paige Meyer had 15 points and five assists. Sophomore Ellie Colbeck had a career-high 15 points as she made five 3-pointers.
Johnston said the five 3-pointers were a big time boost for the Jacks and it’s something that she has worked hard to be able to do.
“No one has shot more than Ellie. Like gone in and worked on their game. I’m just so proud of her. Those five three’s today, they were perfect. Never touched the rim and it was such an energy boost for the team and Ellie,” Johnston said.
SDSU held USD to 35.4% shooting and the Coyotes were 6-of-23 from three. Grace Larkins had 13 points, seven rebounds and six assists. Natalie Mazurek had 17 points and Carley Duffney had 12 points.
Johnston said he liked how hard his team played on the defensive end on Saturday night.
“Our interior defense is really good. Brooklyn [Meyer] is hard to score on. … We have a really good interior defense and we don’t have to help in there. We can stay home in a lot of spots. … And then our perimeter players are doing a good job of chasing people around. I like how hard we’re playing. That’s a big part of defense,” Johnston said.
The Jacks had 37 rebounds and the ‘Yotes had 25 boards. Each team had 12 turnovers. SDSU was 9-of-14 at the free throw line and USD made all 15 of its free throws.
It was the 40th-straight regular season win over Summit League opponents for SDSU. The Jacks are now 58-1 against the Summit League in the regular season over the past four years.
SDSU will head to Oral Roberts next. The Jacks have a three-game lead over the Golden Eagles for first place in the Summit League and SDSU beat ORU 96-60 last weekend. Johnston said the Jacks will have to continue to figure out a plan as they are now down to just seven scholarship players.
“[We have to come up with] a new plan with how we’re going to use this group moving forward. I love our confidence. I think we’ll continue to work through this adversity, continue to play hard and see where it takes us,” Johnston said.