South Dakota State edges South Dakota behind more Zeke Mayo heroics
Jackrabbits improve to 10-4 in league play
BROOKINGS — In 1989, a still ringless Michael Jordan delivered his first great playoff moment, hitting a jumper over a dejected Craig Ehlo to lift the Bulls over the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA playoffs.
It is, to this day, one of the most iconic and memorable shots in basketball history, and when then-Bulls coach Doug Collins was asked in the postgame press conference what the plan had been in the final moments, Collins' answer was as legendary as Jordan's shot.
"Give it to Michael," Collins said, "And everybody get the (expletive) out of the way."
Now, no one is about to compare Zeke Mayo to the greatest basketball player of all time, but after the Jackrabbit guard put his team on his back to deliver a thrilling rivalry win for the second weekend in a row, it was easy to surmise that South Dakota State coach Eric Henderson might have had a plan at the end of it similar to the one Collins used all those years ago.
Was that it, Hendo? Give it to Zeke and get out of the way?
"You don't want to just say Hendo's a magician?" the coach joked of his team's 72-67 win over South Dakota.
A joke, because it was as obvious to Henderson as everyone else in the building — Mayo was the one providing the magic. With SDSU trailing 67-66 with 1:05 to play, Mayo attacked the basket at full speed and managed to put enough touch on his layup in traffic to get it to go in off glass to give the Jacks a 68-67 lead. After a Kruz Perrott-Hunt floater was no good on the other end, the ball was back in Mayo's hands, and, well, everyone pretty much got out of the way. He caught the Coyotes in a defensive switch, took a step back and drilled a 3-pointer to make it a four-point game with 12 seconds left, sealing the win in front of 4,421 Frost Arena fans.
It was a dagger in the heart for a USD team that played well for the duration, fought back from an 11-point deficit and led by three with 3:10 left, only to go scoreless the rest of the game.
"Zeke hit two consecutive really tough shots," said USD guard A.J. Plitzuweit. "Tip your cap."
Said Coyote coach Eric Peterson: "He's just really shifty. We were trying to keep him off his left hand. He's been really electric to his left, we wanted to make him put the ball on the floor to his right hand and obviously he hurt us that way, too. Good players do that."
The last time SDSU was in action, Mayo had 41 points to lead a heart-pounding win over North Dakota State. On Saturday the Coyotes contained Mayo for most of the day, forcing him into occasional rushed or forced shots that resulted in a 3-for-12 effort from beyond the arc. But Mayo still had 19 points, and made the clutch shots in the end, when everyone in the building knew he'd be the one to take them.
"We keep things pretty simple within our program," Henderson said. "We want our guys to play confident and free, so yeah, we wanted the ball in Zeke's hands and have him make a play and he certainly did."
Matt Dentlinger added 20 points for SDSU (15-11, 10-4 Summit), while Alex Arians had 13. Plitzuweit had 18 for the Coyotes (11-15, 6-8) and Perrott-Hunt added 15, but extra possessions were clutch. USD outshot SDSU, but the Jacks had a 15-8 edge in offensive rebounds leading to a 30-24 edge in second-chance points, while also outscoring them 9-4 in points off turnovers.
When SDSU went up by 11 in the first half, it looked like the sellout crowd would woosh the Coyotes out of the gym. That didn't happen, though, with USD back to within two at the break.
Peterson said that earlier in the season his team would've been done for at that point. That they fought back shows the progress they're making. A win would've been just their second at Frost since 2000.
But as dicey as things might have looked for SDSU late, they never seemed worried. When you have a guy like Mayo, it's easy to feel confident.
When Mayo was asked if he believed the Jacks would win when they trailed in the final minutes, he did not hesitate.
"Absolutely," said the 6-foot-3 sophomore. "I trust everyone on the squad. We had so many moments where we stayed resilient all game long. We knew it'd be tough. That's a great squad over there. But a team like this — I wouldn't want to play with anybody else."