Young's free throws lead women in overtimeJill Young wasn’t supposed to have the ball in her hands, but she’s glad she did.
By: Eric Olson, The Associated Press
SIOUX FALLS — Jill Young wasn’t supposed to have the ball in her hands, but she’s glad she did.
Young, a Mitchell native and Mitchell Christian graduate, made the go-ahead free throws with 7.1 seconds left in overtime and South Dakota State overcame a 17-point deficit to beat UMKC 78-77 Tuesday and win the Summit League tournament championship for a fourth straight year.
“Four times is unbelievable,” coach Aaron Johnston said. “I don’t think it’s easy to describe how difficult it is to get to an NCAA tournament. These games are so pressure packed. To find ways to come out on top really has a lot do with Jill and Jennie (Sunnarborg). Those two were really good for us tonight.”
Young found herself at the free-throw line with a chance to win the game after getting fouled along the baseline. She had unexpectedly gotten the ball on an inbound pass. Johnston actually had drawn up an inbound play that had the ball going to the 6-foot-2 Sunnarborg.
Young was starting toward the basket when LeAndrea Thomas fouled her.
“I don’t think I ever caught the ball on an out-of-bounds play right there,” Young said. “I thought I might have a chance to get a bucket and get us back in there, draw a foul. I was able to do that.
“I’ve shot a lot of free throws in my life over the last 23 years, so there definitely wasn’t any doubt or hesitation in my mind. I knew I had to go up there and think they were going in.”
The Jackrabbits (24-8) earned the Summit League’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament with their 15th win in 16 games. They first had to survive an incredible individual performance by UMKC’s Dayon Hall-Jones.
Hall-Jones, who finished with 27 points, scored 19 of her team’s 26 points during a 12-minute stretch of the second half and had the ball after Young’s free throws gave the top-seeded Jackrabbits the lead. She drove into the lane and got off a shot that bounced off the backboard just before the buzzer.
“I was just thinking that I want to attack the basket, try to get a foul and get the win for my team,” Hall-Jones said. “I guess it just didn’t happen.”
Sunnarborg, who had 10 of her 12 points after halftime and grabbed nine rebounds, joins fellow senior Young as the only players who have been part of all four of SDSU’s NCAA tournament teams.
“Legacy is a great word for those seniors,” Johnston said.
Young said she never fathomed going to the NCAA tournament four times, considering it was only in 2004-05 that the Jackrabbits began transitioning to Division I from Division II.
“This means as much as the other three (times),” Young said. “To do it as a senior and end my career here in South Dakota, playing here my whole life, it’s neat to be a part of.”
Young and Ashley Eide led the Jackrabbits with 13 points apiece, and Tara Heiser added 12.
Kim Nezianya had 17 points and 12 rebounds for UMKC (22-11), which was playing for its first Summit championship.
Eilise O’Connor, who had five points on 2-for-8 shooting in regulation, made back-to-back jumpers to give the Kangaroos a 77-76 lead with 30 seconds left in overtime.
Young’s shot on the other end clanged off the rim, and the Jackrabbits got the ball back with 11.2 seconds left on the alternating possession after Sunnarborg and Hailey Houser went to the floor in a scrum.
Next came the critical foul that sent Young to the line, and then two swished free throws.
Hall-Jones drove hard into the lane on the final play but couldn’t draw a foul call, and her shot was too hard to go in.
“I felt I got a little bump, but the ball didn’t go in and that’s just it,” Hall-Jones said. “I know that refs aren’t going to make that call at the end of the game.”
UMKC, the tournament’s third seed, came into the game off seven straight wins since losing to South Dakota State on Feb. 11.
The Jackrabbits, 12-0 all-time in Summit League tournament games, won their sixth straight meeting with the Kangaroos.
“It hurts,” Nezianya said. “It hurts to lose any time. We all believed we could do it and came in here being the underdog and that didn’t matter. We were going to fight until the clock said zeroes, and we did.”
Victory looked improbable for the Jackrabbits after they shot 29 percent in the first half and found themselves down 17 points late in the half.
But SDSU used a 14-0 run bridging the halves, with Sunnarborg becoming a big factor after going three-quarters of the game without a field goal and just two points.
The game evolved into a second-half battle between her and Hall-Jones, who did all she could to keep the Jackrabbits from pulling away.
SDSU looked like a shoo-in for a fourth straight NCAA tournament after beating IPFW by 21 points in the quarterfinals and IUPUI by 25 in the semifinals.
But in a final played 50 miles from its Brookings campus and with a throng of Jackrabbits backers at Sioux Falls Arena, SDSU came out and missed seven straight shots and 19 of its first 24 against a UMKC team it had beaten five straight times.
The Kangaroos, with a small but vocal group of fans behind their bench, jumped out to leads of 9-0, 19-6 and 33-16 before the Jackrabbits showed any semblance of offense.
“This is a pretty remarkable win considering where we were the first half,” Johnston said.