By Wayne Otto
College Sports Journal
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — The sold out Sioux Falls Arena was packed with blue and gold on Monday as South Dakota State’s Jackrabbits got ready for the Summit League men’s and women’s basketball semifinals.
And the home fans were rewarded as both of the host teams won to reach Tuesday’s championship games.
But the bigger news was the upset of the top-seeded men’s team from Oral Roberts.
The ORU Golden Eagles (27-6 ) led by player of the year Dominique Morrison and his 19.9 season scoring average ran into a defensive minded No. 4 seed, the Western Illinois Leathernecks (18-13) and came out on the short end of the stick, losing 54-53.
The Leathernecks, who are the top-ranked defensive team in the Summit League, controlled the tempo with a slowed-down, grind-it-out style, against the versatile Eagles.
ORU picked the tempo up during the middle stretch of the second half, thanks to a zone trapping full court press.
The Golden Eagles turned a 27-26 halftime deficit into a 51-43 lead with 7:21 remaining on an 18-foot jump shot by Warren Niles.
ORU never scored from the field the rest of the game, while committing four turnovers, missing four shots and three free throws, while making only two attempts from the charity stripe to settle for their final score of 53.
Spurred by its defense, the Leathernecks finally took the lead on a 12-foot jumper by Terell Parks with 26 seconds left after Oral Roberts missed several opportunities down the stretch to put the game out of reach.
ORU’s Michael Craion turned the ball over in the lane with seven seconds left after a Leatherneck double team forced Morrison to give up the ball on a move towards the post.
WIU’s Ceola Clark was immediately fouled on the inbounds pass, but he missed the front end of a one-and-one free throw.
The Eagles raced to the frontcourt but the ball was slapped away from Craion again as time expired.
Terell Parks led the Leathernecks with 14 points and eight rebounds. Ceola Clark added 11, all in the first half.
The Golden Eagles were paced by Morrison’s 23 points on 9-of-12 shooting. Niles tossed in 11 and Craion had a game high 11 rebounds.
The Leatherneck’s win puts them into the SL championship game on Tuesday night, which will be televised by ESPN2.
The loss leaves ORU patiently waiting for selection Sunday as the Golden Eagles have a RPI rating of 38, which could possibly land them in the NCAA tournament.
If its bubble bursts, Oral Roberts has an automatic bid into the NIT as a regular-season league champion.
ORU and its 27 wins are the most in school history as a NCAA Division I program.
Oral Roberts had advanced to at least the semifinals of the Summit League tournament for the 12th time in 15 seasons two nights before.
The Golden Eagles will relocate to the Southland Conference for the 2012-2013 season.
This is the first time since 1993 that the top seed has not reached the SL championship game and Western Illinois has reached the title contest for the first time since 1997.
The nightcap semifinals game saw the home state standing No. 2 seed South Dakota State Jackrabbits (26-7) use a 19-5 run to open the second half to pull away from a very pesky sixth seed, the Southern Utah Thunderbirds (14-17), on the way to a 63-47.
The story of the game was the best players on each team.
The Jackrabbits all-league guard Nate Wolters had a game-high 31 points, a team-leading seven rebounds and a team-leading six assists and one steal.
The Thunderbird’s scoring leader Jackson Stevenett suffered a game-ending ankle injury less than four minutes into the game as he tallied two points and one rebound in his limited stint.
The Jacks forged a 28-27 halftime lead without having to deal with Stevenett and his low post scoring ability. But the lack of that scoring threat finally caught up with the outmanned Thunderbirds.
SDSU also had 17 points from Jordan Dykstra as they had only two players in double figures and six players to score.
Southern Utah was led by Damon Heuir with 14 points and was the only double-figure scorer for the Birds.
The Thunderbirds out rebounded the Jacks 30-28 but were limited to 40% shooting by the Jacks defense. Conversely the Jacks shot 51% and 57% in the second half to pull away from the Birds.
Nate Wolters hit two free throws four seconds into the game to put the Jacks ahead. SUU tied the score at 21 with a Ray Jones, Jr. jump shot.
After that it was all Jackrabbits. The Birds never led in the game.
With the semifinal victory, the Jacks roll into the Summit League championship game Tuesday night against Western Illinois. The Jacks will have faced the No. 7 seed, No. 6 seed and No. 4 seeds in their tournament run.
This is the first time the Jacks have appeared in the SL championship game. The previous two years, SDSU had advanced to the semifinal game.
South Dakota State entered the day ranked 52 on the NCAA’s RPI computer. The Jacks have wins this season over the Pac 12 champion Washington Huskies and Summit League regular season champion Oral Roberts.
A win by the Jacks in the championship game would tie a school record with 27 wins.
The winner of tomorrow’s championship game will receive the Summit League’s automatic NCAA tournament bid.
There were fewer dramatics earlier in the day when the ladies took the court.
The Summit League regular season champion South Dakota State Lady Jackrabbits (23-8) continued their dominant play as they breezed past the IUPUI Lady Jaguars (13-19) 74-59 in the Summit League championship tournament semifinals.
The Jacks, who are 11-0 all time in Summit League tournament games, took a 10 point lead into halftime, 34-24, behind the 10 point first-half effort of Gabrielle Boever, who came in off the bench.
In the second half the Jacks pulled away and led by as many as 26 and then settled for the final 25-point victory margin.
SDSU’s bench scored 32 points and the Jacks had four players in double figures paced by Jill Young with 14. Jennie Sunnarborg added 13, Ashley Eide and Gabrielle Boever both tallied 12 each.
The Jacks also dominated the boards holding a 51-34 rebounding margin. SDSU’s stingy defense held the Jags to 34% shooting, while shooting 44% itself.
NDSU is now 12-0 all time versus IUPUI. With the win, the Jacks, who have an RPI computer ranking of 65, advance to the Summit League championship game on Tuesday afternoon.
In the second semifinal game, the No. 3 seed Missouri-Kansas City Lady Kangaroos (22-10) led from start to finish as they upended the seventh-seeded Western Illinois Lady Leathernecks (12-19) 71-56.
UMKC’s Elise O’Connor scored the first two of her 15 points 14 seconds into the game and built a 15 point halftime advantage.
The lead swelled to 21 and ended with a 15 point Kangaroo’s victory.
Brianna Eldridge also added 15 points for the Roo’s, while Kim Nezianya had 12 and Ashli Hall added 11.
The Leathernecks were paced by Valencia Kelly and her game-high 22 points, but she was the only WIU player in double figures.
UMKC advanced to the championship game to face top seeded South Dakota State Tuesday afternoon, with the winner getting the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
The potential for post season bids other than the NCAA are very viable.
South Dakota, which gains full Summit League status next season and was ineligible for this season’s SL tournament, but the Lady Coyotes hold a 22-7 record and are in consideration for the WNIT or WCIT.
Also, Oral Roberts University has a 20-10 record and participated in the WNIT last year, is also has post season aspirations.
With the appearance of the Jacks in both the men’s and women’s championship games, the Sioux Falls Arena will most definitely be Jacked on Tuesday.