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Second-half run sends Jacks past DWU

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Dakota Wesleyan University's Kynedi Cheeseman (30) drives to the basket past the defense of South Dakota State University's Sydney Stapleton (35) during an exhibition game on Friday night at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls. (Matt Gade / Republic)

SIOUX FALLS -- Dakota Wesleyan University’s upset bid was alive at halftime, but South Dakota State University quickly extinguished it.

The Jackrabbits drew fouls, and their continuous physicality and length bothered the Tigers. DWU fell 77-46 on Friday at the Sanford Pentagon. This was an exhibition for the Tigers, but counted as SDSU’s (1-2) first win of the season.

“The game just got away from us in the second half,” DWU coach Jason Christensen said. “But to come in here and play a Division-I opponent, our kids played well. We had a pretty tough week. … To come here and compete the way we did, I’m pretty proud of our kids.”

SDSU coach Aaron Johnston credited DWU’s defense, which came in with a clear plan. It opened the game in a zone defense and trapped the paint, forcing the Jackrabbits into 3-pointers. They didn’t respond, shooting 4-for-17 from 3-point range in the first half.

“I thought we settled some,” Johnston said. “They’re good defensively. They took some things away and those are shots we had that were really quick. … That’s just not our style right now. We have to be a little more settled. We have to be a little more deliberate.”

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SDSU’s poor shooting allowed the Tigers to hang around, despite them turning it over 13 times. As SDSU clanked open 3-pointers off the rim, the Tigers shot 50 percent from the field, sank five 3-pointers and went a perfect 7-for-7 at the free-throw line.

Alexandria native Kynedi Cheeseman had all 11 of her points in the first half. And Kamryn Heinz, who had nine points, made an and-one layup to punctuate the close first half for DWU, which trailed 34-32 at the break.

“I thought the first half we did a really good job keeping our composure,” Christensen said. “But the second half caught up to us.”

SDSU’s plan of attack evidently changed after the break. It stopped settling for outside shots and attacked the paint, using their size to out-rebound the Tigers (43-24) and score at will inside.

Paiton Burckhard shot 9-for-12 from the field for her game-high 23 points, with 11 coming in the third quarter.

“I think we just locked in,” said Letcher native Myah Selland, who recorded nine points, eight rebounds and five steals in the win. “We did a lot of good things in the first half, but we just didn’t finish plays. The second half we really did a good job finishing plays and making the extra effort to finish.”

A two-point halftime lead turned into a 25-point advantage by the end of the third quarter for SDSU, which opened the second half on a 23-2 run.

While its size helped it score 40 points in the paint and grab 21 offensive rebounds, the Tigers also couldn’t find an answer for the Jackrabbits’ length. They committed eight of their 25 fouls, which saw three players finish with four.

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DWU turned it over six times in the third quarter, too. Rylie Cascio Jensen had five steals for SDSU, while Sydney Stapleton added three.

“They were tipping basketballs. They were jumping in gaps,” Christensen said. “It’s two different levels, and you can see the difference right there.”

Kaylee Kirk dished out eight assists and grabbed five boards. Sarah Carr added eight points and Jessica Mieras scored seven points against her former team.

“(DWU) gets through their sets and execute their offense really well,” Johnston said. “They look like a really experienced team out there that understands what they’re trying to get done each possession. The first half, they made a lot of plays and a lot of shots to cause a lot of problems for us.”

DWU returns to Great Plains Athletic Conference play against Midland at 4 p.m. today at the Corn Palace.

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