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Wahpeton's Irwin helps SDSU women win another Summit League basketball tournament

South Dakota State's Tylee Irwin shoots over South Dakota's Madison McKeever during Tuesday's Summit League women's basketball tournament championship game in Sioux Falls, S.D. Dave Eggen / Inertia1 / 3
South Dakota State's Tylee Irwin defends South Dakota's Allison Arens during Tuesday's Summit League women's basketball tournament championship game in Sioux Falls, S.D. Dick Carlson / Inertia2 / 3
Tyler Irwin, far left, and her South Dakota State teammates hoist the 2019 Summit League women's basketball tournament championship trophy Tuesday at the Denny Sanford Premier Center in Sioux Falls, S.D.. Dave Eggen / Inertia3 / 3

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Tylee Irwin would have preferred to be on the basketball floor playing, but she wasn’t complaining about her courtside view of Summit League women’s basketball history Tuesday.

Irwin, the Wahpeton, N.D., standout who is now a sophomore starter for South Dakota State, had to sit with two fouls for most of the second quarter. She watched her teammates explode to a 22-2 run that helped the Jackrabbits claim an 83-71 victory against rival South Dakota in the Summit League Tournament championship game before 7,871 fans at the Denny Sanford Premier Center.

Irwin also saw senior teammate Macy Miller become the Summit League’s all-time leading scorer during that pivotal run, netting 12 of her 30 points.

“Wow, it’s an honor to play with Macy,” Irwin said of Miller, from Mitchell, S.D., who was named the tournament’s most valuable player. “For my first two years here, I got to watch her play. You see how hard she and all the other players work, and it really motivates you.”

It motivated Irwin enough to hit the weight room and put on 25 pounds since high school. A stronger Irwin has now become one of SDSU’s best defensive players, willing to let Miller and senior Madison Guebert carry the scoring responsibilities.

That role was never more evident as soon as Tuesday’s championship game tipped off.

Getting the assignment to guard first-team, all-conference player Allison Arens, Irwin blocked Arens twice and stripped the ball away from Taylor Frederick during the first six minutes.

To open the second half, Irwin stole a pass that was intended for Arens inside. She later stole a loose ball and then blocked another Arens’ shot inside. For good measure, Irwin's offensive putback expanded SDSU’s lead to 61-44.

“I don’t know if anybody on our team has improved this year from beginning to the end more than Tylee has,” said SDSU head coach Aaron Johnston, whose team won its second straight tournament title and ninth in the last 11 years. “As the season went on, she was phenomenal. Not so much in a statistical way offensively, but she was one of our better defensive players. She has been a huge, huge part of this team.”

Irwin had her offensive moments, too. When she drove to the basket and delivered a perfect bounce pass to Paiton Burckhard for an easy layup, SDSU led 68-49. She finished the game with seven points (about her average), five rebounds (above her 3.6 average), three blocked shots and four steals.

“She had a good day defensively,” said Irwin’s father Craig, who was the head basketball coach at the North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton from 2000 to 2008. “The Jackrabbit coaching staff did a great job of making her a pretty good perimeter defender. She creates problems with her length on the perimeter.”

It all started for Irwin when her mom Darla coached her doing youth basketball, while dad was still coaching at NDSCS. It led to a stellar career at Wahpeton High School. And now, in just her second year at SDSU and the first player from North Dakota playing for the SDSU women, Irwin will be playing in her second straight NCAA Division I tournament.

“I am so thankful for the opportunity to play here,” said Tylee, who considered going to North Dakota or North Dakota State. “But South Dakota State was just something special to me. I just loved everything about it. It’s a place where I could see myself being the most successful.”

USD 17 38 49 71

SDSU 15 45 68 83

USD (28-6): Frederick 1-5 1-4 5, A. Arens 8-20 7-7 26, Lamb 2-11 8-8 14, McKeever 1-7 0-0 2, Duffy 2-3 0-0 4, Kunzer 0-1 0-0 0, Korngable 0-1 0-0 0, M. Arens 4-13 0-0 9, Sjerven 5-10 3-4 13. Totals: 23-71 (FG), 19-23 (FT).

SDSU (26-6): Larson 2-5 4-4 8, Selland 2-5 2-2 6, Guebert 5-10 9-10 22, Miller 10-19 6-6 30, Irwin 2-4 3-4 7, Cascio-Jensen 2-3 0-0 6, Theuninck 0-0 2-2 2, Palmer 0-0 0-0 0, Burckhard 1-2 0-0 2. Totals: 24-48 (FG), 26-28 (FT).

Total fouls: USD 22, SDSU 24. Fouled out: A. Arens, Sjerven, Larson. 3-point goals: USD 6-27 (A. Arens 3-6, Lamb 2-6, M. Arens 1-6); SDSU 9-18 (Guebert 3-6, Miller 4-7, Cascio-Jensen 2-3). Rebounds: USD 39 (Sjerven 9, A. Arens 7), SDSU 34 (Miller 11, Irwin 5). Assists: USD 7 (A. Arens 2, Duffy 2), SDSU 17 (Selland 4, Theuninck 4). Steals: USD 6 (A. Arens 3), SDSU 8 (Irwin 4). Turnovers: USD 10, SDSU 14. A-7,871.