By Wayne Otto
College Basketball Columnist
College Sports Journal
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — The Summit League championship tournament semi-finals got off with a bang on Monday with 5,871 rabid fans filling the Sioux Falls Arena for a noon tipoff with women’s number one seed and defending champion South Dakota State Jackrabbits and the fourth seeded South Dakota Coyotes.
South Dakota’s Raeshel Contreras hit a 22′ 3 point shot with less than a second left in the quarterfinal round to down Western Illinois 96-94 to advance to play the Jacks, who had a bye into the semi’s in the seven team field.
The Coyotes trailed by as many as 17 points and mounted their comeback behind 26 points from Nicoe Seekamp and 22 from Contreras.
The Coyotes stunned the boisterous crowd by jumping out to a 9-2 lead and then took a 37-25 lead into the halftime against South Dakota State. South Dakota increased the lead to 23 with 12:00 to go.
The Coyotes went over six minutes without scoring and the Jacks pulled within 11 on a 12-0 run. That was the closest they got as the Coyotes got 19 points from Seekamp and Polly Harrington chipped in with 18 en route to the 72-58 final margin. South Dakota State fell to 22-9 and will have to wait on their post season fate, which will likely be the WNIT.
South Dakota improved to 18-13 and now has a date in the championship game with the Denver Pioneers for the NCAA tournament bid.
South Dakota snapped SDSU’s tournament record streak of 15 straight tournament wins. The Jacks are now 15-1 all time in its tournament history. This is the first time since 2008 that the number one seed has failed to reach the finals.
The Denver Pioneers took an early 18-6 lead on the IUPUI Jaguars in the second semi-final game and had to hang on at the end of regulation to force an overtime period. Jordan Johnston scored 7 of her game high 15 points in the extra period to lead the Pioneers to the upset victory 76-69.
Desiree Hunter grabbed a game high 14 rebounds. IUPUI was led by DeAirra’s 20 points and Nevena Markovic’s 15 points and 10 rebounds. Denver improved to 9-22 with a shot at an NCAA tournament bid, while the loss dropped IUPUI to 22-9 and will have see if the post season is in their future.
Denver upset the Fort Wayne Mastodons 79-73 in the quarterfinals and IUPUI downed North Dakota State 72-64 behind DeAirra Goss’ 25 points.
The evening men’s semi-final session featured the number one seed North Dakota State Bison pounding the Denver Pioneers 83-48. The Bison made a statement with the 35 point win, which is the largest victory margin in Summit League semi-final history.
The Bison dominated right from the start, jumping out to a 30-9 lead. NDSU held the Pioneers to 30% shooting in the first half to secure a 42-15 score advantage halftime advantage. SL Player of the Year Taylor Braun had 18 of his game high 28 points in the first half to pace the Bison. NDSU shot a blistering 74 percent from the field in the first half.
The Bison kept their foot on the gas pedal in the second half as they built a 43 point edge at 77-34 with 5:37 remaining. Head coach Saul Phillips then cleared his bench and ended with the 83-48 final score. The Bison shot a blistering 63 percent from the field and a remarkable 8-12 from the 3 point line.
The Pioneers shot 41 percent but as a dismal 1-13 from the bonus-sphere.
Cam Griffin led the Pioneers with 13 points who dropped to 16-15 on the season. North Dakota State improved to 24-6, which includes a win at Notre Dame.
With the NDSU victory, it marks the 20th time in the past 21 years that the top seed has made the finals.
Denver’s 15 first half point total was the tournament’s lowest since Valparaiso held UMKC to 15 in 2003. Denver beat South Dakota 71-55 which advanced them to the semi-final.
Brett Olson poured in 20 points to lead the Pioneers who shot 52% for the game. The nightcap game had the number three seed South Dakota State Jackrabbits playing the number two seed Fort Wayne Mastodons.
Fort Wayne stunned the defending Summit League champion SDSU 64-60 before a standing room only crowd of 6,769, mostly clad in Jackrabbit blue and gold.
The Dons quieted the loud partisan crowd by racing to a 25-15 lead at 6:30 mark of the first half in what was a defensive slugfest.
The lead was 30 -20 at the 1:36 mark but the Jacks closed the half with a jump shot by Chad White.
After another defensive stop, Jordan Dykstra hit a jumper at the buzzer to pull the Jacks to with in 6, at 30-24. Those were the only two points of the half for the Jacks’ leading scorer.
The Jacks scored the first nine points of the second half and took a 33-30 lead when University of Florida transfer Cody Larson made a layup. A layup by the Dons’ Isaiah McCray stopped the 9-0 Jacks run.
After some back and forth play, two free throws by the Jacks’ Brayden Carlson gave SDSU what wuld be their last lead of the game at 43-42.
The Dons answered the bell and led by as many as 7 at the 8:33 mark on one of Mo Evan’s six 3 pointers.
A 3 pointer by Dykstra closed the gap to 3 at 63-6- with :29 left, but after a missed free throw by Pierre Bland, Carlson Brayden missed a 3 point attempt for the Jacks with :10 left and their fate was sealed.
Freshman Mo Evans came of the Fort Wayne bench and poured in 18 points on 6 of 7 shooting from the 3 point line to keep the Dons in control most of the second half.
The Dons bench outscored the Jacks bench 29-11.
The Jacks were forced into 18 turnovers by the pressure man defense of the Dons and scored 22 points off those costly turnovers. Pierre Bland had 12 points with 5 assists and center Steve Forbes provided 10 points and a game high 8 rebounds for the Dons.
Carlson led the scoring for the Jacks with 19, Chad White chipped in 10 points and Jordan Dykstra and Cody Larson both had 9 points for the Jacks. Larson also grabbed 8 rebounds.
Fort Wayne shot 40% for the game while the Jacks shot 44%, but it wasn’t enough to offset the hot shooting of Mo Evans. Fort Wayne got to the semi-finals by blasting IUPUI 85-47 behind 19 points from Luis Jacobo.
SDSU gained the semi-finals with a 71-50 pasting of Western Illinois. Dykstra led the way with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Fort Wayne now plays NDSU for the Summit League championship and the NCAA tournament berth.
The announced crowd of 6,769 was a tournament record for the six years of the Sioux Falls Arena era.
Fort Wayne improves to 24-9 on the season and SDSU falls to 19-12 and waits on a possible invite from either the NIT, CBI or CIT post season tournaments.