Cyclones make Jacks' senior sendoff a sour one at NCAA tournament

Mar. 21—OMAHA, Neb. — Charlie Easley and Matt Mims were both hoping it might be a special night at the NCAA tournament, with an upset win over Iowa State serving as a final flourish for long and accomplished Jackrabbit basketball careers.

Iowa State didn't allow that dream to get off the ground.

The Cyclones led for all but 47 seconds of the game and Easley and Mims were among the Jackrabbits who were in the postgame locker room after an 82-65 loss to the second-seeded Cyclones at CHI Health Center Omaha on Thursday night giving all credit to Iowa State, even if it was painful to see their season and careers end.

Thursday night was the 129th game in Mims' career and the Cedar Rapids, Iowa, product said Iowa State probably had the "hardest defense I've ever played in my life."

"They played hard, they have no quit," Mims said. "It doesn't surprise me at all with T.J. (Otzelberger). Playing for him, you just want to fight and they have a lot of fight."

"We had a rough start to the game and we continued to chip away and battle," Easley said. "We got close and we had a few shots rim out and we had a couple of calls that didn't go our way and a credit to them on defense. We missed some shots that we liked and they're a great team."

Both Easley and Mims were playing their second NCAA tournament game, as was Luke Appel, and each senior had their moment. Appel logged nine points and seven rebounds, Mims with a pair of 3-pointers, including the opening salvo to get the Jacks on the board and another one later to get SDSU to its closest point in the second half at four points. Easley had 11 points in his final game, playing about an hour from his hometown of Lincoln, Nebraska.

"We didn't lose our cool," Mims said. "We fought back and we ran out of gas there in the second half, but we fought and I'm so proud of this team."

It was the 109th game for Easley in his career, which started with the Cornhuskers, while Appel played game No. 96 for the Jacks on Thursday.

For all of the discussion during the week about playing close to home in Brookings and having some Jackrabbit blue in the stands, Easley said the scene on Thursday night was a special experience.

"It's an atmosphere that you don't forget," he said. "It's not often that you get an environment like that in the NCAA tournament where it feels like it's two home games. We had a decent amount of crowd and (Iowa State) had a lot. It was a really cool thing to experience in a massive arena."

The game ended with an emotional handshake line, with Otzelberger sharing hugs with many of the Jackrabbit players and coaches. None was longer than the embrace with Mims, the lone Jackrabbit player on the roster from five years ago to be recruited by Otzelberger.

"He just told me that I have a lot to be proud of, and that I'm a winner," Mims said. "He gave me a chance to play college basketball at the D-I level and a chance to live out my dreams. Anything he says will always mean a lot to me, and it was a special moment to me, and I will always respect coach T.J. a lot."

The three seniors will exit the program having exhausted their eligibility and the Jacks' other two starting standouts — guard Zeke Mayo and forward William Kyle III — are likely to have suitors that would like to see the two Jackrabbit stars in the transfer portal. Neither player has given an indication that they intend to leave SDSU, but two other members of the all-Summit League first team — Omaha's Frankie Fidler and North Dakota's B.J. Omot — have put their names on the transfer list, showing there's a market for the league's top players.

"I had the best time I ever could have here, and I left it all out there tonight," Appel said. "I mean, that's just how it ended up. You just look at our other seniors like Charlie and Mims, and those are my brothers for life and Zeke and Will. I'll remember this team forever."