With a month remaining until the Summit League Tournament in Sioux Falls, the Coyote men’s basketball team head into the latter half of conference play with an 18-6 (6-2 CONF) record.
After a 19-point win over South Dakota State followed by a 16-point loss to Denver this week, USD sits at No. 2 in Summit League rankings and No. 9 in Men’s Mid-Major Top 25. Seven games remain in the regular season, and head coach Craig Smith is optimistic about the potential of this year’s squad.
“It’s an exciting year with an enjoyable group to coach.” Smith says. “Despite losing Tyler Flack and Trey Dickerson, we’ve returned a lot of experience. Our guys know what to expect. We’re a very intelligent team.”
So far this season, the Coyote defense is best in its conference, holding opponents to only 67.9 points per game and 41.7 percent shooting, both Summit League lows.
“One thing we can always hold our hat on is playing defense.” said senior center Nick Fuller. “When our offense isn’t making many shots, we can focus on defense to make sure we get a stop. We know our defense can shut teams down.”
Fuller said he accredits this stellar defense to strategies on the coaching level.
“Coaches give us great scouting reports,” he said. “We know exactly what we need to do stop teams and what they do best, and that gives us energy that translates to the offensive end.”
On the other side of the court, the Coyote offense, led by junior Matt Mooney (17.7 points and 3.0 assists per game), junior Tyler Hagedorn (13.7 points per game), and sophomore Triston Simpson (8.8 points and 3.3 assists per game) is the third most productive unit in the Summit League, averaging 80.4 points per game, according to GoYotes.
“Mooney’s been our catalyst, which is no surprise, but every night out it feels like it can be different guys performing.” Smith said. “Hagedorn has stepped up to the plate. Trey Burch-Manning has been remarkably consistent. Simpson, Peterson, and Fuller have definitely taken a step forward from last year.”
Smith said his team struggled offensively early in league play against teams like Denver, Western Illinois, NDSU and Fort Wayne. After taking a look in the mirror, he said he realized that more practice time should be focused on improving offense.
“Since we’ve geared things more towards offense, guys have bought in more,” he said. “We’re mixing in some new lineups, and the further the season goes the more we learn our team, putting us in a better position.”
Fuller said he’s seen offensive improvements since this move.
“Our defense has really helped us stay in and win big games, but when we get the ball moving on offense, we have four or five guys on the floor that can get shots and score,” he said. “We move the ball well, and that really makes it tough on teams.”
Above a prominent defense and an improving offense, Smith said he believes a strong fan base is the key to a successful program.
“Going back to the South Dakota State game, our student body and fans had a major impact in our win,” he said. “The spirit and atmosphere our student body has is contagious and conducive to winning. Their exuberance carries into the traditional fanbase, and that energy carries right onto the floor. We have three home games left, but hopefully we can create that sort of environment for every game.”
The Coyotes play three away games (Western Illinois, North Dakota State, Oral Roberts) and three home games (Fort Wayne, Peru State, Omaha) before their season finale against South Dakota State in Frost Arena Feb. 22.