South Dakota State has won 14 consecutive games in this event, which is also how many the program has played in it. If the Jackrabbits (24-7) beat instate rival South Dakota today (3:30 p.m. EDT) in the championship game, it will be their fifth straight tournament title.
“At the end of the day,” Paul said, “South Dakota State plays with a swagger, they play with a confidence, they play with a belief that they're going to win every time they're on the floor, and you can just see it. The moment they bring people off the bench, they bring them on the floor it doesn't look like they skip a beat, and it's really, really impressive. My goal — and they know this — is as we continue to build this program, obviously this young program, as we continue to grow, they are the model that we are trying to build after.”
Paul's program has been chasing the Jackrabbits ever since the Mastodons (13-17) entered the Summit League. In each of the past four seasons, IPFW has seen its season culminate with a tournament loss to South Dakota State.
“Obviously, it's not the ending that we were looking for,” Paul said. “We felt like we had a good matchup because we felt like we were playing pretty confident basketball, winning five of our last seven, and then playing really well (Sunday). But it just really wasn't our day.”
South Dakota State (24-7) took an early 8-7 lead and quickly stretched it 18-7 before taking a 46-29 advantage into the locker room at intermission.
IPFW junior guard Erin Murphy scored her team's first seven points and that was a precursor to how her day would go. She finished with a team-high 18 points.
“Every game we like to start strong,” Murphy said. “We think setting the tone is an important part of the game and, like I said, defensively we just didn't get after it. We were told to cut off baseline and that didn't happen all the time. We knew that they were going to be bigger and stronger than us, and we just weren't as physical as they were with us. They played hard, and not that we didn't play hard but — like I said — we just needed to get stops in and we didn't.”
The Mastodons were coming off of a 50-minute, double-overtime game less than 24 hours prior to tipoff Monday, but Paul said that wasn't a reason for his team's defeat.
“I don't think it played into anything,” Paul said. “I actually like the fact that we were playing again within 22 hours because I felt like we played so well yesterday, I felt like there was so much confidence, that I just wanted to come back out and play again.”
The reigning Summit League Player of the Year, IPFW junior wing Amanda Hyde, finished with 15 points.