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The Quick Hitter: USD makes early statement against SDSU in men's hoops

South Dakota Coyotes head coach Craig Smith looks on against the Gonzaga Bulldogs during the first half at Dec. 21, 2016 in Spokane, Wash. (James Snook/USA TODAY Sports)

The South Dakota men's basketball team made a significant statement against South Dakota State on Wednesday.

That statement was a convincing 87-68 dismantling of the streaking Jackrabbits at the Sanford Coyote Sports Center in Vermillion. The win, which moved South Dakota into first place in the Summit League standings, is a mental boast for the Coyotes.

That's because the Coyotes' road to an NCAA tournament berth will go through SDSU one way or another. And since 2012, the Jackrabbits are 10-4 against the Coyotes in the Division I-era, including last year's 74-71 Summit League semifinal stunner in Sioux Falls.

For any Coyote player or fan, that's the numbing truth. USD star Matt Mooney, who poured in a game-high 30 points on Wednesday including his 1,000th career point in the red and white, was quick to mention how he used the semifinal shortfall for motivation in the postgame press conference. The 6-foot-3 junior playmaker also acknowledged the Coyotes haven't seen the end of the Jackrabbits.

The two foes will meet again on Feb. 22 in Brookings. But with both teams firmly cemented as the top two teams in the Summit League standings, it's likely a third battle at the Summit League Tournament in Sioux Falls will ultimately decide which team moves on to the Big Dance (while the other will likely continue in the NIT).

Until then, the Coyotes can only use Wednesday's blowout victory as a blueprint of how they want to play. It's also undoubtedly a confidence booster for tougher contests down the road. Most importantly, as USD head coach Craig Smith noted, the victory over the Jackrabbits allows both teams to control their own destinies in terms of the regular season title and No. 1 overall seed.

On Jan. 12, 2012, when the rivalry resumed at Frost Arena and the Jackrabbits crushed the Coyotes 86-56, I was on press row covering the game for The Volante (USD's student newspaper). I remember coming away from that game wondering how tough it was going to be for the Coyotes to get on the same level as the Jacks in men's hoops.

While they don't have the NCAA Tournament resume like SDSU, everything else on the court moving forward appears to be as even as ever. That makes the future drama of this blossoming rivalry fantastic for basketball fans in the Rushmore State.

The Quick Hitter is a feature at published only at mitchellrepublic.com regarding the local sports news of the day.

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