By Wayne Otto
College Sports Journal
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — In what was billed as the most significant sports event in the history of the state of South Dakota, fans who came to watch the Summit League men’s and women’s basketball championships Tuesday at the Sioux Falls Arena got double the pleasure and double the fun.
Not only did the hometown South Dakota State Jackrabbits come away with two heart-stopping victories to reach the NCAA basketball tournaments for both men and women, they did it with thrilling overtime victories.
The Summit League administration could not have asked for a better final day for its championship tournament.
In the men’s title contest on Tuesday night, SDSU (27-7) had to withstand a defensive struggle and an overtime period to outlast the upset-minded Western Illinois Leathernecks (18-14) 52-50.
Western Illinois used its vaunted man-to-man defense to limit the Jackrabbits to 35% shooting in the first half on 28 shot attempts. The Leathernecks scored the period’s last five points to take a 28-24 advantage to the locker room.
When SDSU took a lead with about two and a half minutes left in the first half, little did they know that they wouldn’t regain that advantage again until overtime.
The first half saw 10 lead changes and the score was tied four times. WIU’s largest lead in the half was four points while SDSU’s largest lead was three.
The Leathernecks came out of the intermission break with a vengeance as they immediately built a 12-point advantage of 37-25 to silence the blue-and-gold-pro SDSU crowd.
The Jacks started to make a run and the sold out Sioux Falls Arena crowd of 6,526 became electric for the ESPN2 national telecast.
A Griffan Callahan layup and then a 3 pointer by Chad White at the 4:57 mark to cut the Leatherneck lead to 42-40.
Tommie Tyler answered with a cutting layup for WIU to silence the crowd again.
Two free throws by Nate Wolters cut the lead to 44-42 with 4:08 to play. The next scoring was almost 4 minutes later when Callahan was fouled with 15 seconds left and made two free throws to tie the score.
WIU then played for the last shot and Ceola Clark attempted an 18-foot shot with Wolters draped over him as the ball bounced on the rim and fell to Obi Emegano, but time expired as Emegano tried in vain to get off the shot.
The overtime period was played in the same defensive meticulous manner as the rest of the game.
Tyler had a dunk on a breakout two seconds into the period for the Leathernecks. Tony Fiegen answered for the Jacks.
A bucket by Terel Parks and Chad White’s three-point allowed SDSU to take its first lead since the first half at 49-48, but Emegano’s back door cut and layup put the Leathernecks ahead 50-49 with 2:04 left.
That lead didn’t last long as a three-pointer by Callahan gave the Jackrabbits the final 52-50 victory margin.
A couple turnovers by Western Illinois and a Tyler missed shot on a leaning, off-balance drive inside of three seconds kept the Leathernecks from the upset.
Parks rebounded Tyler’s final effort and then a Brayden Carlson steal sealed the game and championship as time expired.
The Jackrabbits were led by Wolters with 14 points, while Callahan added 10. The Jacks out rebounded the Leathernecks 38-32.
Western Illinois was paced by Tyler’s 19 points. Parks had 11 rebounds and Ceola Clark was the defensive stopper. WIU held the Jacks to 35% shooting.
The all-tournament team consisted of tournament MVP Nate Wolters, Jordan Dykstra, SDSU, Ceola Clark, WIU, Terel Parks, WIU and Jackson Stevenett, Southern Utah.
SDSU will now make its first NCAA Division I tournament appearance. The Jacks have 24 NCAA DII tournament appearances to their credit.
The total of 102 points was an SL tournament record for the least amount of points scored in an overtime game.
This was the first time that both the men’s and women’s Summit League championship games were both decided in overtime.
The Jacks will find out their NCAA tournament pairing on Sunday.
In the women’s final on Tuesday afternoon, the top-seeded Jackrabbits (24-8) had to fight off a pesky Missouri-Kansas City team (22-11) in overtime, 78-77 to claim its NCAA dance card for the fourth straight season.
The Jacks are now a perfect 12-0 all time in the SL championship tournament.
The Lady Kangaroos bounced out to a quick 9-0 lead behind six points from Kim Nezianya.
The Jacks broke the run when Ashley Eide scored and was fouled and then converted the free throw to put the Jacks on the board.
The UMKC lead ballooned to 17 with 3:07 to go in the first half.
A three-point basket by Gabrielle Boever at the first half buzzer pulled the favored Jacks to within nine at intermission.
A 14-0 run continued after the halftime intermission as the Jacks tied the score at 36 on a Ashley Eide trey.
The score was tied seven times and had one lead change in the closely contested second half.
Brianna Eldridge scored a Roos layup with a minute left in regulation to tie the score at 67.
Then Hannah Strop missed a three-pointer and Jennie Sunnarborg grabbed the offensive rebound to give the Jacks another chance for the victory, But Strop missed another trey with 14 seconds left.
The Roos had a chance to punch their NCAA dance ticket as Dayon Hall-Jones barely missed a contested layup at the regulation buzzer.
In the overtime frame, the near capacity crowd of 5,153 — the third-highest SL women’s championship attendance in history — was treated to a great finish for the championship.
Eilise O’Connor put the Roos ahead 77-76 with 33 seconds left. The stunned partisan crowd then watched Jill Young miss a 17-foot jumper, but Sunnarborg rebounded.
SDSU’s Jill Young was fouled with seven seconds left and converted both free
throws to put the Jacks ahead by one, 78-77.
After a Jacks timeout, Dayon Hall-Jones took the ball coast to coast and shot a 10- footer for UMKC that just rolled off the rim to give SDSU the Summit League championship.
The Jacks used a balanced scoring attack putting four players in double figures, led by Young and Eide with 13 apiece. Sonnarborg and Heiser both tossed in 12.
The Roos were led by Hall-Jones with 27 and Kim Nezianya with 17 points and 12 rebounds.
The all-tournament team consisted of tournament MVP Jennie Sonnarborg, South Dakota State, Dayon Hall-Jones, UMKC, Valencia Kelly, Western Illinois, Kim Nezianya, UMKC and Jill Young, South Dakota State.
The Lady Jackrabbits will know their NCAA destination on Monday.