Brookings Registry | Jackrabbit basketball teams head to Omaha

BROOKINGS – The South Dakota State men’s and women’s basketball teams play in Omaha tonight.

The women are scheduled to face the Mavericks at 5 p.m. and the men will follow at 7:30 p.m. You can watch the games at omavs.com/watch.

Women

The Jackrabbit Women just suffered their first conference loss. SDSU (8-8, 4-1) blew up against South Dakota on Saturday, 65-42.

“It was a tough game for us,” SDSU head coach Aaron Johnston said. “[It was] a game where, quite honestly, I don’t think we played well at all. I thought we struggled in this game. In the first quarter, we played quite well. We did a couple threes and hung on, but even then I didn’t think we had the right pace and even the offensive execution that you need to play well on the road.

Johnston added that he thinks SDSU’s game plan against USD isn’t good.

“I don’t think our plan was great against them,” Johnston said. “So it’s [USD] expose that or take advantage of that. I think our plan needs to be a little different and I think that’s something I can look back on as a coach and feel like this year, offensively when we struggled, it has to do with us put in the right plan or attack or offense.

“We have been inconsistent with that this year. So for us as coaches, now that we have a bit more of a fixed rotation, what will be best suited for this group going forward. … [We need to find] this offensive plan which can be universal and you feel that you can go against the team.

The Mavericks come into play Thursday night 6-9 overall and 2-4 in the Summit League.

Omaha upset SDSU as the No. 8 seed in the quarterfinals of the Summit League tournament last season. Johnston said the Mavericks team this year is similar to the team that shocked the Jacks last March.

“I would say [they’re] real similar [to last year]. The guard game has improved a bit. They are more offended by players on their perimeter. I think they’re a bit banged up, so we’ll see if an injury brings them back to their traditional three, four, five. Their wing, forward and post. This group was really difficult last year for us and the other teams. So I think there are a lot of similarities and on the wing they are probably more advanced,” he said.

Omaha trails the Summit League in points, averaging 58.9 points per game. The Mavericks are shooting 40.2 percent from the field, which is tied for eighth most in the conference. They are giving up 63.7 points per game, which is fourth in the league, and opponents are shooting 39.5% against them, which is third.

Senior forward Mariah Murdy leads Omaha, averaging 11.4 points and 7.1 rebounds. Senior center Elena Pilakouta isn’t far behind Murdy, averaging 11.3 points and 5.2 rebounds.

The Jacks have the fourth-highest offense in the Summit League, averaging 67.6 points per game. The SDSU defense is giving up 62.9 points per game, which is third.

Freshman point guard Paige Meyer leads the Jacks in points per game (10.7), assists (3.9) and steals (1.1). She is one of four Division I freshmen with an average of at least that stat line.

Tori Nelson is second in the conference in field goal percentage, shooting 55%. She averaged 9.3 points per game and 4.2 rebounds. Nelson has scored at least nine points in nine of the last 10 games.

The Jacks will stay on the road and play in Denver on Saturday at 3 p.m. central time.

Men

The SDSU men will look to go undefeated in conference play Thursday. The Jacks (13-4, 4-0) took on the USD on Saturday with an 84-65 victory.

Omaha enters the game having lost three of its last four games. The Mavericks are 3-14 overall and 2-4 in conference.

SDSU head coach Eric Henderson says the Jacks need to stick to their strengths if they want to go 5-0 in the Summit League for the first time since the 2017-18 season.

“We know [Omaha] going to play fast,” he said. “They have a lot of familiar faces. They can score it, they can shoot it. They really want a high possession game, which we do too. We have to make sure we stay true to who we are and don’t miss any hard knocks.

“We have to make sure that we stay true to our identity. Which is making sure we play through the post, taking quality shots and sharing the basketball.

The Mavericks are the last in the Summit League to score on offense and defense. They are giving up 80.5 points per game, while scoring just 66.6.

Senior Nick Ferrarini and junior Felix Lemetti lead the Mavs in scoring. The two goaltenders are averaging 10.5 and 10.4 points per game, respectively.

SDSU is the top 3-point shooting team in the nation. The Jacks are shooting 44.6% from beyond the arc. They are second in the nation in field goal percentage at 51.5% and third in the nation in points, averaging 87.1 points per game.

Even with those numbers and the conference starting 4-0, Henderson said his team was still a “work in progress” because of the way the Jacks played defensively at times.

“I know we had some great times,” Henderson said. “I know we’ve had times where I think it’s offended that we’ve been in the top flight. We shoot basketball at a very high level, we are second in scoring. And I say all of that and we’re happy about all of that, but what I’m probably most proud of is how close our defensive focus and mentality I believe is to a champion team. We are not there yet.

“We need to become more consistent and play more connected for longer periods. Rebounding, we went to some stretches where we gave away second chance points way too many times, but it’s getting better. … That’s where I always feel like we can improve and be more consistent when it comes to our mentality and our rebound too.

SDSU have played their last three games without leading scorer Noah Freidel. Henderson said it was a basketball decision and he was facing who he thought would help him win games.

While he was away, sophomore Baylor Scheierman and freshman Zeke Mayo stepped up. The two have combined for 73 points over the past two games, while shooting 64.3% from the field.

SDSU returns home Saturday to face Denver at 2 p.m.