Leading by four at the half, the Coyotes went cold from behind the arc while Clemson tied a season-high in 3’s to top USD 79-66 Friday evening in Starkville, Miss. at their opening round game of the NCAA Tournament.
“We had a great run. It’s been a really special year,” senior Allison Arens said. “Honestly, today was one of those games where you don’t even really look at the score because you walk off with your heads high and appreciate all that you got to experience this year.”
The Coyotes opened the game strong, leading at the end of the first quarter and at the half 35-31. USD struggled in the turnover category, but found a way to keep Clemson’s two post players out of their comfort zone.
Kobi Thornton and Tylar Bennett, both 6-foot-2-inches or taller, were the focus of Clemson’s offense. The Coyote interior defense was solid, causing Thornton to go 0-for-5 from the floor and held the duo to seven total points.
Clemson averages 10.8 3-point shots per game this season. The Tigers changed that story by attempting 21 three’s, making nine of them. USD wanted to force them to shoot the ball, but Clemson responded by making those shots.
“We knew they wanted to get in the paint more, so we dared them to shoot,” Arens said. “They made shots and did a great job. We adjusted, but we couldn’t quite hold them.”
“For us, I think it’s going to be challenging for us to take everything away from a team that has more size and athleticism than we do,” head coach Dawn Plitzuweit said. “So, we tried to do our best at limiting some opportunities. I thought in large stretches in the game we did a good job of that. I think they got a couple in rhythm in some rebound opportunities or the one where they took a charge. Those are tough. They are a team that has ability to hit shots and we couldn’t get off to some of those on the rebounds or charges.”
Clemson fell behind by eight in the third quarter. The Coyotes had an opportunity to extend the lead to 10, but sophomore Monica Arens missed an open lay-up. On the following Clemson possession, sophomore Liv Korngable entered the game before the referee signal, triggering a technical foul.
Clemson made both free throws, and made a lay-up to cut the lead in half. From there, Clemson’s press defense and jump shooting were the difference. The Coyotes committed 17 turnovers and struggled to move the ball inside in the second half.
“Like Coach said, they put really good ball pressure on us,” Arens said. “They picked us up full court, and we did not see that a lot this season. We prepared for it, but sometimes you can’t prepare for things like that. They did a great job forcing us one direction and taking advantage of some of our weaknesses.”
Seventh-year senior Simone Westbrook led all scorers with 27 points. Fellow Tiger senior Danielle Edwards tallied 25 points (5-of-9 for 3-pointers) and eight rebounds. Redshirt-sophomore Hannah Sjerven led the Coyotes with 17 points and 12 rebounds. Arens, the lone senior on this Coyote squad, pitched in 15 points, all of which came in the second half.
No. 1 Mississippi State defeated Clemson 85-61 on Sunday.
For the Coyotes (28-6), Arens ends her career with over 1,400 points, 500 rebounds and 300 assists.
“When I first got here, I started to realize the kind of special player that Allison was,” Sjerven said. “Knowing it was her senior year we had a lot of goals oriented towards that, and I wish there was more that we could have done for her, but I’m glad we made it this far.”