Heading into their biggest game of the year, the University of South Dakota’s men’s basketball team will play host to in-state rival South Dakota State University for the first time since losing to them 86-56 on Jan. 12.
The contest between the Coyotes (8-14) and Jackrabbits (19-6) will be the first at the DakotaDome since 2004.
Head coach Dave Boots said his team was outplayed a month ago and needs to show some improvements.
“They flat-out played a lot better than us. They shot better, rebounded better and played more as a team,” Boots said. “We are going to have to show some big improvements in a lot of areas on Thursday compared to our first meeting.”
In the last meeting the Jackrabbits jumped out to a 50-21 lead at half, which proved to be too much of a deficit for the Coyotes to come back from.
Sophomore center Trevor Gruis said the Coyotes need to start off stronger and contest their shooters.
“In the previous meeting SDSU jumped out to a massive lead which put us in a hole that we couldn’t climb out of,” Gruis said. “Expect us to come out with a lot more energy. We’re going to have to shore up our defense and not give them as many open looks.”
Senior guard Charlie Westbrook said the team is definitely going to be ready and more prepared this time around.
“It’s going to be a fun time playing them, (SDSU), but I promise you this game is going to be taken very seriously,” Westbrook said. “We learned they are a pretty good team, so we have to play real well.”
With only 500 tickets left for the game, the Coyotes are expecting their biggest crowd of the season.
“Hopefully the Dome is packed and the atmosphere is rocking,” Gruis said. “I know we disappointed some people here with the last game’s outcome so we all really want this one.”
Freshman point guard Nimrod Hilliard IV said he is looking forward to seeing what the DakotaDome crowd will be like on Thursday.
“I don’t know from experience but from what I have heard this is the game of the year,” Hilliard said. “Everyone is pumped and very excited for this game.”
The Coyotes know in order to beat the Jackrabbits they will have to start hot and come out with energy. In all of their wins USD has shot at least 43 percent from the floor.
“I know personally I want to be in attack mode,” Hilliard said. “As a team we just have to go out there and make plays.”
Boots said the team is motivated after a 79-63 victory over the University of Missouri-Kansas City. The win improved the Coyotes conference record to 3-10 in the Summit League.
“We’re all shooting in practice, so hopefully that translates to the game,” Boots said.
USD will have the tough task of trying to slow down one of the Summit League’s best playmakers, in point guard Nate Wolters, who leads the Jackrabbits with 21.3 points per game and 6.2 assists per game.
The Coyotes played very strong defense last Saturday against UMKC, holding them to 36 percent shooting. So there is positive energy heading into the big game.
“We are hoping the fans are ready for this game because we know we are,” Westbrook said. “We are hoping we can feed off of all the noise they’ll make.”