South Dakota State uses big second half surge to defeat St. Thomas in Frost Arena finale

Feb. 24—BROOKINGS — When the buzzer sounded to signal the end of South Dakota State's 77-72 win over St. Thomas on Saturday, Jackrabbit seniors Charlie Easley, Luke Appel and Matt Mims lingered near halfcourt a little longer than they usually do after games. They waved to the crowd of 3,136, exchanged hugs and handshakes and posed for pictures, looking like they didn't really want to leave the floor.

That was understandable. It was an emotional day: Senior Day, the last home game for the trio, but also the last home game for the Jackrabbit men at Frost Arena, the historic home court for South Dakota State that will become First Bank & Trust Arena next year.

That made it a day of celebration before the game even started, with the traditional pre-game Senior Day festivities. But those don't make for as fond of memories when the day doesn't end with a win, and the Jacks would have a chance to move back into sole possession of first place in this one as well. That almost created a 'must-win' vibe for the Jacks players, and they responded.

"It was a great way to go out," said Easley, who had 17 points and four steals. "A high-energy game, come-from-behind win. It was just great for us three (seniors) to have all of our families there and so many people supporting us. It was a great experience, but you've got to find a way to win those. We stepped up in the second half and we played as a team and we got it done."

The Jacks trailed 39-32 at halftime, as the Tommies made 52 percent of their first-half shots, including 6-of-13 from beyond the arc. SDSU played with good energy in the first half but coach Eric Henderson thought they lost their edge near the end of it. He didn't hesitate to get after them at halftime to get that edge back.

"It was a spirited locker room (at halftime)," Henderson said. "I thought we got back to that. There was alittle pressure on us today. We didn't talk alot about it because we wanted to celebrate our (seniors) that mean so much to our program. So you don't want to ignore (that pressure) but you don't want to magnify it for them. I do know this — it was important for us to play a certain way and I was proud of how our guys did that, especially in the second half."

The Jacks took control with a 20-2 run early in the second half that saw them at one point make eight consecutive field goals. The highlight was three straight trips down the floor that resulted in and-1 three-point-plays, one from each of their three seniors. It brought an already boisterous crowd to a fever pitch, as the Frost faithful again made their presence felt in the win.

"They're obviously a huge factor when we play at home," Zeke Mayo said of the fans. "It's never changed. When we go out there, if we start out slow the crowd brings us back into it. We were down seven at halftime but we never gave up and stayed connected as a team. When we go on runs the crowd gives us energy and we feed off that."

Mayo had 23 points on 8-of-11 shooting while Appel and Mims had 11 points apiece. The Jacks shot 59 percent for the game, including 70 percent (14-of-20) in the second half. Drake Dobbs had 16 points to lead the Tommies (17-12, 7-7).

SDSU moved back into sole possession of first place with the win. They'll finish off the regular season on the road, visiting North Dakota (who trails them by one game in the standings) on Thursday and NDSU on Saturday. And they'll head off to thoese games with tremendous momentum from having just played two of their best games of the season.

"What a way to finish off our opportunities in Frost Arena," Henderson said. "What a special place it is. It was rocking in there, and that helped us through some tough times."

Women stay unbeaten in league play

The Jackrabbit women kept rolling on Saturday afternoon, routing St. Thomas 97-63 in St. Paul to extend their winning streak to 16. They're 14-0 in conference play this year, and have now won 45 consecutive conference games.

Brooklyn and Paige Meyer led the way in this one, with Brooklyn scoring 26 points on 11-of-12 shooting and Paige hitting for 23 on a 9-of-11 performance from the field. Brooklyn had eight rebounds; Paige had nine assists.

That was part of a Jacks offense that couldn't have been much more efficient. SDSU (22-5) shot 67.9 percent from the floor, which included a 9-of-14 effort from the 3-point line and 27 assists on 38 made field goals. Madison Mathiowetz had 20 points for the Jacks, hitting all three of her 3-point attempts. Ellie Colbeck had 11 points and four assists, Mesa Byom eight points and five rebounds and Jenna Hopp dished six assists off the bench.

Sammy Opichka had 15 points to lead the Tommies (14-14, 6-8), who dropped their fifth straight contest.

SDSU returns home next weekend to close out the regular season. They'll host North Dakota on Thursday and North Dakota State on Saturday.