For 25 minutes the IPFW men's basketball squad had the state of South Dakota and its frenzied basketball fans across the frozen plains extremely nervous.
The Mastodons had opened their Summit League Tournament semifinal game with top-seed South Dakota State with a fury, ultimately leading by as many as 12 points in the first half in front of a sold-out (6,300) Sioux Falls Arena. However, the Jackrabbits (24-9) fought back following halftime and came away with a 72-56 victory.
South Dakota State will face North Dakota State today at 9 p.m. in the championship game.
“I think the players would admit that we were pretty soft in the first half,” Jackrabbit coach Scott Nagy said in a release. “The plan was to get off to a better start, I mean the first two times we played these guys they just out-physicaled us, and so I thought we were prepared and we weren't, they were ready to go.”
IPFW led 34-32 at halftime and continued to hold a 45-44 advantage with just over 15 minutes remaining. But that is when its game plan collapsed.
"This is the best I've seen South Dakota (State) play in the second half,” Mastodon coach Tony Jasick said. “We did not execute in the second half the way we did in the first. We cannot do that against a really good team in a great environment."
The Jackrabbits scored 10 consecutive points over a three-plus minute stretch and were never seriously threatened again.
“We were good offensively,” Nagy said. “We shot the ball and all that stuff's great, but that stuff doesn't win championships. The defense and rebounding is going to win it for us."
IPFW's plan was to slow Jackrabbit star Nate Wolters in terms of his distributing the ball.
It didn't work.
Wolters finished with a pedestrian 18 points, but his real effect on the game was the dozen assists (a career high) that he passed out.
"On the ball screens, (the Mastodons) were trapping a little bit better and holding a little bit longer,” Wolters said. “That's why Tony (Fiegen) was rolling to the hoop and Chad (White) was getting open as well. I mean, we were really struggling early, but Chad (White) really got us going by hitting those big shots."
Frank Gaines scored 25 points to pace IPFW (16-17), which tied its deepest tournament run in program history, while Luis Jacobo chipped in seven points and five rebounds.
The Mastodons struggled to contain South Dakota defensively. The Jackrabbits shot nearly 67 percent from the field in the final 20 minutes and were 24 of 39 (61.5 percent) for the game.
“I believe the key to defending South Dakota State is to not let the other guys (aside from Wolters) get going,” Jasick said. “We did not do a great job offensively at all midway through the second half and that allowed them to get in transition. They are nearly unguardable in transition."
SOUTH DAKOTA ST. 72, IPFW 56
Jacobo 3-8 1-1 7, Kibiloski 2-5 0-0 5, Reed 1-2 0-0 2, Bland 3-5 0-0 6, Gaines 9-20 3-4 25, Graham 0-0 0-0 0, McCray 1-3 0-0 3, Hines 0-1 1-2 1, Edwards 3-6 1-2 7. Totals 22-50 6-9 56.
SOUTH DAKOTA ST. (24-9)
Fiegen 6-8 4-5 16, Dykstra 3-5 1-2 9, Wolters 5-13 6-6 18, Carlson 2-3 3-3 8, White 6-7 1-1 17, Bittle 0-0 0-0 0, Heemstra 2-3 0-0 4. Totals 24-39 15-17 72.
Halftime—IPFW 34-32. 3-Point Goals—IPFW 6-20 (Gaines 4-10, McCray 1-2, Kibiloski 1-3, Edwards 0-2, Jacobo 0-3), S. Dakota St. 9-17 (White 4-5, Dykstra 2-3, Wolters 2-8, Carlson 1-1). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—IPFW 17 (Jacobo 5), S. Dakota St. 29 (Dykstra 9). Assists—IPFW 14 (Bland, McCray 4), S. Dakota St. 16 (Wolters 12). Total Fouls—IPFW 21, S. Dakota St. 12. A—NA.