After getting blown out 56-86 by South Dakota State in Brookings last year, the University of South Dakota men’s basketball team looked to erase those bad memories from Frost Arena.
Unfortunately, the Coyotes (8-14, 4-5) were unable to exercise their demons on Thursday night, falling to the Jackrabbits by a score of 54-67.
A sellout crowd of 6,130 was on hand to witness SDSU’s 27th consecutive home victory, tied for a school record, and improvement to 17-6 for the season (8-2.)
“We knew going in they’d be hard and that we’d have to have a really good night to come in here and play with them,” USD head coach Dave Boots said after the game. “I’m proud of the way our guys played.”
“We didn’t shoot the ball great and had some shots that didn’t go in for us, but they’re very good. They’ve got an outstanding basketball team.”
Despite sub-zero temperatures outside, SDSU started the game red-hot from beyond the arch, making four consecutive baskets to jump out to a 12-7 lead. Following a string of Coyote turnovers and missed jumpers, the Jackrabbits stretched the lead to 21-7 with 12:51 left to go in the first half.
After sophomore Brandon Bos was able to convert a free throw to make it 21-10, the Coyotes were able to slow the tempo and begin to execute sets in the half-court. Following a pair of made free throws by SDSU forward Jordan Dykstra, freshman Tyler Flack snared an offensive rebound and followed it with a one-handed jam to silence Frost Arena.
The two teams proceeded to trade baskets as the Coyotes slowly began to test SDSU’s patience on defense. After star point guard Nate Wolters sunk a three-point basket to put the Jackrabbits up 31-20, the Coyotes responded with a 6-1 run, closing the gap to make it 32-27 with 2:39 left in the first half.
Just when it appeared the Coyotes would capitalize on a missed three-pointer by Wolters with 1:18 left in the half, the Jackrabbits were able to seize control with a quick steal and transition bucket by Jordan Dykstra, igniting a quiet Frost Arena into frenzy. Juevol Myles missed a key three-point shot and SDSU was able to add two points to their lead at halftime, finishing the first period with a 36-27 lead.
Despite the deficit, the Coyotes finished the first half at 50 percent from the field on 11 for 22 shooting. Freshman guard Casey Kausperbauer led the Coyotes in scoring for the first half with a total of eight points. Bos finished with seven points, while Flack led the team in rebounding with six boards. Flack also two blocked shots on the defensive end.
The second half was less of a contest as the Jackrabbits went on a 15-9 run and went up 50-33 at the 11:54 mark. The Coyotes turned the ball over twice and missed a set of jumpers which led to fast break opportunities for SDSU.
SDSU extended its lead to 55-38 after Dykstra hit a jumper, but an old fashioned three-point play by Jordan Boots cut the lead to 14. Eric Robertson made a layup off an assist from junior Trevor Gruis and Gruis was able to draw a foul and convert one of two free throws to make it 55-44 in favor of SDSU with eight minutes to play in the game.
But the Coyotes were unable to close the gap as a crucial turnover by Myles lead to an SDSU basket and gave the Jackrabbit crowd momentum. Myles was sent to the bench for the remainder of the game and SDSU was able to preserve their lead.
Kasperbauer was the only Coyote in double digits for scoring, putting up 15 points on six for eight shooting. Both Bos and freshman Eric Robertson finished with seven points. Myles, averaging 16.0 ppg, finished with just six points on two for 10 shooting but chipped in with five rebounds and three assists.
The Jackrabbits were led in scoring by Wolters, who finished with 19 points and three assists. Dykstra added 18 points and 14 rebounds, a career high. Tony Fiegan and Chad White each added 11 points each.
For USD, the game was a summary of their entire season: stretches of quality play followed by inconsistent possessions and mental lapses leading to turnovers and wide open looks for their opponent. And when it mattered most, the Coyotes were unable to execute their strategy.
However, the Coyotes were able to get some of their younger players quality minutes, something Boots believes will benefit them down the road.
“Our three freshman coming into this atmosphere was good for them and was a good learning experience,” he said. “Flack, Robertson, Casey (Kasperbauer) and Bos all had good minutes.”
While disappointed with the result, Boots looked at the game as an indication of progress in the program.
“Certainly we played better than we did a year ago,” he said. “We’re not where we need to be but we’re getting better.”