Traxler: Jackrabbit men make a habit of surviving in the Summit tourney
Another year with SDSU as a high seed, another year playing a team that SDSU should easily beat on paper battling them to the final minutes. And another win.
SIOUX FALLS — Guess who had another close call in the Summit League men’s basketball tournament quarterfinals?
Yeah, it was South Dakota State.
Another year with SDSU as a high seed, another year playing a team that SDSU should easily beat on paper battling them to the final minutes. And another win, which makes it all sit better with the Jackrabbit faithful after Saturday night’s strange 63-55 win over Omaha at the Premier Center.
Since 2016 — which covers Scott Nagy’s last season and the T.J. Otzelberger and Eric Henderson eras — the Jacks have won by 3, 10, 6, 13, and 8, and lost by 3 (twice) in the Summit League quarterfinals.
For those involved, they said it’s a product of the time of year: March.
“Obviously, it being March, everyone is playing free and they’re trying to play their best basketball,” SDSU senior Alex Arians said. “Teams are playing free and it really challenges everybody. And like we’ve seen in the past, anything can happen.”
“There’s no doubt about it,” Henderson said of SDSU’s struggles in the first game in Sioux Falls. “These guys are young and this is one of the biggest crowds we’ll play in. It’s such a great environment but I think it works a little both ways, especially in that first game.”
To Omaha’s credit, coach Chris Crutchfield wanted his team to play free, something they did to great effect, even if the Maverick offense disappeared in the attempt for an upset in the second half.
“We want to come here and play really loose basketball,” he said. “There’s no expectations on our team here. … The gameplan was to come in and play loose and be free and have fun.”
SDSU won the earlier meetings in the season by 21 and 23 points. But with the season on the line, Omaha played aggressively and with nothing to lose. The Jackrabbits feel that on the other side.
“Whether you’re playing the 6-seed, the 7-seed, the 8-seed, tonight, the 10-seed, they take that mentality of ‘Us-against-the-world,’” Henderson said. “They come together.”
Henderson rightly pointed out that SDSU has been a high seed in almost all of those games. In that span, the Jacks have been No. 1 seeds four times, and the No. 2 seed three more times, with the other being when the Jacks were the 4-seed in 2017 and eventually won the title. SDSU has won this event five times, so there’s plenty of proof that SDSU can and has played better.
SDSU made the plays they needed to in order to win, mainly holding Omaha to 18.8% shooting in the final 20 minutes. One also has to note the home-court advantage SDSU gets, with 8,000 supporters in the building, and the Jacks now 25-8 in the conference tournament all-time.
Henderson told his team to celebrate, even if they might be disappointed by the final margin. Advancing in March is tough to do, as SDSU has shown over and over.
“Our guys are maybe not as happy as they want to be in the locker room,” Henderson said. “I said no, no, no, wins right now, it doesn’t matter if they’re by one or whatever. We need to celebrate.”