With a 72-44 win over Denver in the Sanford Coyote Sports Center Wednesday night, USD clinched a spot in the Summit League tournament, a pleasant birthday gift for head coach Todd Lee, who is now 1-1 as a coach on his birthday, according to him.
Though, with three games remaining, junior Triston Simpson said the team hasn’t thought that far yet.
“We’re just trying to focus on our next opponent, which is SDSU,” he said. “We’ll enjoy this one until midnight.”
USD strung together two scoring runs in the second half to create the 27-point ravine that put them at 11-15 overall and 5-8 in the Summit League. The first was a 13-3 run to open the second half, thanks to three consecutive 3-point plays from senior Brandon Armstrong, then a 27-6 run to close it. During the second run, USD hit six 3-pointers, finishing with 13, one less than their season high against Omaha on Feb. 7.
“We were shooting with confidence,” sophomore Stanley Umude said after the game. “We all believe in each other, we all believe we can make shots, it’s just a matter of stepping up to the plate and hitting them.”
Closely tailing Denver through the first 10 minutes of the game, USD used a 23-5 run to leapfrog the Pioneers to a 36-22 halftime lead. USD held Denver to a 29 percent shooting percentage until intermission and 30.9 percent for the game.
Umude led the Coyotes with 18 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks, his third double-double of the season. Junior Triston Simpson followed with 13 points, six rebounds and five assists. Junior Cody Kelley scored 12 points with five rebounds, and senior Trey Burch-Manning tallied 11 points, six rebounds and four assists.
Denver shoots 38.1 percent from 3-point range, ranking 31st in the NCAA. However, USD held the Pioneers to 5-for-15 for the game, Denver’s lowest mark for 3-point baskets made in their last nine games.
The Coyotes used those long rebounds to push the pace on the offensive side of the floor. Simpson took over at point guard and Kelley played at the two-spot, opposite of the normal alignment.
“Triston’s quick getting the ball up the court and Cody’s shooting the ball well,” Lee said. “So we’re getting [Kelley] more looks off the ball and getting the ball in Triston’s hands, so he’s able to push the ball.”
Aforementioned by Simpson, USD’s next match features in-state rival South Dakota State in Brookings, S.D. this Saturday. SDSU took the opening match 79-61 in Vermillion on Jan. 6.
The top team in the Summit League and ranked No. 15 in mid-major standings, SDSU leads the conference in points per game (84.6), rebounds per game (38.5), field goal percentage (50.5), 3-point percentage (41.4), opponent field goal percentage (41.0), and are second in points allowed per game (72.5), behind USD (69.9). Additionally, seniors Mike Daum (25.4 pts/game) and David Jenkins (19.9 pts/game) are the Summit League’s two leading scorers.
USD has pieced together back-to-back wins for the first time since Dec. 16, and Simpson said entering Frost Arena and getting a third would be great.
“It’s gonna be a great atmosphere, it’s a Saturday, it’s a rivalry game. It would be big time to go up there and get a win.”
Lee said SDSU’s “old guys” aren’t going to make that task easy.
“They’re not a team that you can just hold down. They’re gonna score. That’s what they do,” he said. “The one thing is that they don’t play a lot of guys either, it’s just the guys they play. Daum is a fifth-year senior, Flatten’s a six-year senior, they’ve got King who’s a fourth-year senior. They have a talented team.”
USD hasn’t beaten SDSU in Frost Arena since the two teams moved to Division-I. It’s hard winning in Jackrabbit territory, but Lee said playing behind enemy lines is a motivator.
“They should be excited. If you love basketball, you want to compete. You want to go into a gym like that and it should be fun,” he said. “That’s what you look forward to…a big crowd, a rivalry game. If you’re not excited to play in that environment against State, you better check your ticker.”