Summit League tournament: Oral Roberts ends Coyotes' season

Mar. 8—SIOUX FALLS — We hear it all the time. When you get to March, it's all about momentum. Playing your best basketball at the right time.

Well Oral Roberts came into the Summit League tournament on a 7-game losing streak, and they easily dispatched the USD Coyotes 77-62 in Friday's "play-in" game at the Denny Sanford Premier Center.

So much for momentum.

"Our team's been resilient all year," said first-year Golden Eagles coach Russell Springmann. "Regardless of the circumstances they've continued to fight."

With the win, ORU (12-18) earns a date with top-seeded South Dakota State in the quarterfinals. USD, meanwhile, finishes the year 12-20. They're 24-39 in Eric Peterson's two seasons at the helm.

"We've got to get better," Peterson said. "Playing in (the play-in game) and finishing last is not up to the standard I expect for this program."

The Coyotes came flying out of the gate, scoring the first seven points of the game to enliven a mostly-red crowd of 7,611, but that ended up being the high point for South Dakota.

Springman called a timeout before Kaleb Stewart's 3 to make it 7-0 had even hit the floor, and moments later his team had answered back to go ahead 8-7. That wasn't necessarily where the game was decided, but Springmann admitted to questioning himself on taking timeouts to slow hot teams all year long. This time he clearly made the right call.

"There's been times where I just felt like our team was gonna respond," Springmann said. "I'd think about taking a timeout and be like, no, no, just wait. Tonight I didn't feel good about what was happening. I felt like we were negligent defensively and I just didn't like the feel of how we were playing."

The Eagles were mostly in control the rest of the night. They were up 28-22 before Paul Bruns heaved in a shot from just inside half-court at the halftime buzzer to make it 28-25 and give the Yotes a slight boost, but they couldn't carry that over into the second half. They'd held the Eagles to 32 percent shooting in the first half, but their own offensive struggles prevented them from taking control.

The Coyotes pulled even at 42-42 eight minutes into the second, and the crowd came to life when they did, but the Eagles quickly extinguished that fire. They hit 3-pointers on three straight possessions to stretch their lead to seven, then got back-to-back 3s from Jailen Bedford to go up by 13 with 3:24 left. And that was pretty much that.

The Eagles shot 64 percent from the floor after the break, making 6-of-11 from outside and gradually pulling away.

"That's just basketball," said ORU's Isaac McBride, who had 23 points and seven assists, going 9-of-15 from the floor and making all three of his 3-point attempts. "You don't make shots in the first half, second half comes around and guys settle in, guys get more confident, get more looks. We were just playing the right way, getting the right shots."

Bedford had 19 points for the Eagles and Kareem Thompson had 12 points and 10 rebounds, helping his team to a 36-29 edge on the boards. The teams combined for only 15 turnovers, but ORU scored 14 points off of the nine that USD committed.

Stewart had 18 points and six assists for USD. Lahat Thioune and Bostyn Holt had 12 points each, while Bruns had 11 points and nine boards.

"I would say in the first half we were really struggling offensively and we were really locked in defensively," said Peterson, who credited ORU for making defensive adjustments from their regular season meetings. "In the second half it flipped. We scored the ball and we didn't guard. So it was a tale of two halves and really weird that it would flip like that, but that's what happened."

Thioune played his final game for the Coyotes but everyone else is expected back, so USD is hopeful of taking a big step forward next season. With Peterson entering his third year and a new athletic director on board, there will be expectations. The players seem on board with that.

"We're not gonna feel this feeling again," Stewart said. "No one wants to be in this position. It sucks but we've got a lot of young guys. We're gonna work hard to make sure this doesn't happen again."

As for the Eagles, they'll enter their quartefinal (6 p.m. Saturday) with confidence. They're the 8th-seed facing a top-seed that's won five games in a row, but they did defeat the Jacks in Tulsa in January, while also giving SDSU a competitive game in Brookings in February.

"I think the main thing is for us is to play with energy," Springmann said. "All we talked about is play with more energy than the other team does. Compete and play with energy the whole night — that's what we've got to do tomorrow. Our guys love to be in that environment. I think they'll be excited for it."

In the women's play-in game, the Omaha Mavericks built a 10-point lead midway through the fourth quarter and barely hung on to defeat Kansas City 61-55.

With the win, the Mavericks (8-22) will take on top-seeded South Dakota State in Saturday's quarterfinals. That game will tip at 3 p.m.

Polina Nikulochkina had 17 points and 11 rebounds (her fourth straight double-double) to lead the Mavericks, who have now won two in a row. They shot just 33 percent in the game Friday but outscored the Kangaroos (12-20) 28-4 at the free throw line. UNO went 28-of-36 while UMKC went 4-of-9. It was the 12th time this season Omaha made 20 or more free throws. The Mavs also had a 37-30 edge on the glass. Grace Cave and Aaliyah Stanley had nine points apiece for Omaha.

Emani Bennett had 18 points for the Kangaroos, while Dominique Phillips had 12 points and Nariyah Simmons 10.

Omaha lost both meetings with SDSU by more than 20 points this year, and the Jackrabbits (24-5) will enter the game with an 18-game winning streak. Omaha did defeat SDSU in the quarterfinals of the 2021 Summit League tournament that was played at the Sanford Pentagon, while the Jackrabbits beat UNO 93-51 in last year's tournament final.