SIOUX FALLS -- The biggest upset in Summit League women’s basketball tournament history came out of nowhere on Saturday afternoon.
Eighth-seeded Omaha, a team that had won five games entering the conference tournament, knocked off top-seeded and No. 21-ranked South Dakota State University 52-40 at the Sanford Pentagon.
It is the first time a top-seeded team in the Summit League quarterfinals and stands as being even more shocking given the nine-time conference tournament champions SDSU had won 18 games in a row -- the fourth-longest streak in Division I women’s basketball -- and was averaging more than 71 points per game and shot 43.5 percent for the season.
But without the injured Summit League player of the year Myah Selland, the Jackrabbits shot just 22.4 percent for the game, including 3 for 17 on layups. SDSU was clearly bothered by Omaha’s tall players, with forwards Elena Pilakouta and Mariah Murdie each standing at 6-foot-3.
It was the worst offensive performance in nearly five years for the Jackrabbit women, who were last held to less than 40 points 145 games ago against No. 8-ranked Louisville on Dec. 14, 2016 in an 83-30 loss.
And playing in a mostly empty arena due to COVID-19, SDSU never got any momentum going in the game and Omaha closed out an upset for the ages.
“This was a clunker on our part, for the lack of a better word,” SDSU coach Aaron Johnston said. “I don’t think the atmosphere contributed to that. Things didn’t go well for us and we weren't able to get out of that rut.”
Omaha broke a 24-all tie late in the first half when Murdie hit a 3-pointer and Pilakouta drained a pair of free throws to put the Mavs ahead 29-24 at intermission. At that point, SDSU had shot just 28.6% but made five 3-pointers to stay in the game.
Over the next 20 minutes, SDSU (21-3) was 5 for 30 shooting from the field and 1 of 10 on 3-pointers. Omaha opened the lead up to 12 points by the middle of the second half and while the Jackrabbits would get to within seven points late in the third quarter, that was as close as the contest would get.
Omaha dominated in the paint, outsourcing SDSU 26-12 and made 14 steals, forcing SDSU into 20 turnovers, seven more than what the Jacks average.
“It’s that time of year,” said first-year Omaha coach Carrie Banks when asked what the difference was for the win. “We took every single tough part of this year and we used it as motivation. We decided we weren't going to be done this year. (SDSU) is a team we match up with really, really well.”
The Mavericks played just their 18th game of the season Saturday, impacted by injuries and cases of COVID-19, Banks said. Her team did something many Summit programs have dreamed about doing: defeating SDSU in its backyard. Omaha is just the third conference program to eliminate SDSU since the Summit League tournament moved to Sioux Falls in 2009 (South Dakota in 2014 and 2020, and IUPUI in 2017).
The Mavericks also kept SDSU -- which ranks No. 6 nationally in free throws made -- off the free-throw line, with SDSU attempting just 10 for the game and converting eight. Omaha’s Josie Flier scored 19 points to lead the way, while SDSU was held to 10 points each from Tylee Irwin and Paiton Burckhard, who were a combined 7 of 25 shooting.
The Mavericks (6-12) will play the winner of Western Illinois and Kansas City at 11:45 a.m. Monday in the women’s semifinals. SDSU is still in contention for the NCAA Tournament, which will announce its field on Monday, March 15, but its resume -- nearly flawless entering Saturday -- is now blighted.
“This will sit with us,” Johnston said. “This game was not a good representation of who we are. We had more turnovers than field goals. That doesn’t happen to us very often.”