It was a second-round game that could’ve passed as a championship.
The top-seeded Coyotes were upset by fourth-seeded South Dakota State in front of a packed Denny Sanford Premier Center on Monday night by a score of 74-71.
The Jackrabbits battled back after being down as much as 16 points to make it a tie game with just minutes left.
The game was finally sealed as senior guard Michael Orris took the breath away from Coyote fans and players by hitting a jumper with 1.5 seconds left.
While the Coyotes offense kept up in the second half, the defense slipped. They allowed the Jackrabbits to shoot 52 percent in the second half alone.
Along with the hot shooting, the Coyotes were called for 22 total fouls in the game, translating to 28 free throws for the Jackrabbits.
Perhaps the biggest cause for SDSU came through the 20-point effort by Orris along with sophomore forward Mike Daum’s 18 points and nine rebounds and junior guard Reed Tellinghuisen’s 16 points and seven rebounds.
Sophomore guard Matt Mooney was a big reason the Coyotes stayed up for so long, and stayed in the game in the end, given his 30-point performance. Senior center Tyler Flack also finished with nine points and six rebounds before fouling out.
Despite the tough loss, Matt Mooney spoke words of encouragement after the game.
“We will get back to work to get ready for the NIT Tournament next,” Mooney said. “I promise you this: We will be back here next year. If a loss like that doesn’t inspire you to come out stronger, I don’t know what does.”
Head coach Craig Smith said a big part of the loss was the defense and not getting to the free throw line, but is still excited for the future.
“We didn’t get to the line as much as we usually do and our defense didn’t quite hold up in the end when theirs did,” Smith said. “But I couldn’t be more proud of these guys. I love these guys and I love the trajectory this program is on.”
The Coyotes automatically qualify for the NIT Tournament after winning the regular season title and will play March 14 or 15, most likely in Vermillion.