The Southwest Minnesota State Mustangs had the South Dakota State men's basketball team right where they wanted it on Wednesday night in Brookings, S.D. But SDSU blew open a game that was tied at 40 early in the second half with a 23-6 run to send the Mustangs back to Marshall with an 81-72 defeat.
"I thought our guys gave a great effort tonight," SMSU head coach Brad Bigler said. "South Dakota State is a talented basketball team who's well-coached and it's going to take a great effort to come out with a win against an opponent like that."
All-American Nate Wolters had a game-high 21 points and 10 rebounds for SDSU, which had 18 more free throw attempts than SMSU in the game. He also had seven assists.
SMSU was whistled for 13 more fouls than the Jackrabbits, and starting center Nick Smith fouled out of the game.
"We were adjusting to how the game was being called and it took a little of our aggressiveness, our physicality out of our style of play," Bigler said. "And that's something that we have the depth (to handle). We need to continue to be aggressive and just kind of play through that."
SDSU also had a large advantage on the glass, out rebounding the Mustangs 42-29. Tony Fiegen also had 10 rebounds for the Jackrabbits, and Nick Smith led all Mustangs with eight boards.
William Giddings 5-10 0-0 11, Nick Smith 5-8 0-0 10, Vinard Birch 1-3 0-0 2, Jordan Miller 3-9 0-0 7, Matt Zager 5-5 0-0 13, Tramel Barnes 1-4 0-0 2, Jordan Buddenhagen 3-5 0-0 9, Shaun Condon 1-3 1-1 3, Michael Appel 1-3 1-1 3, Lavione West 5-9 2-3 12. Totals 30-59 4-5 72. 3-pointers 8-20 (Buddenhagen 3-5, Zager 3-3, Miller 1-6, Giddings 1-3) Rebounds 29 (Smith 8, Giddings 6, Miller 6) Steals 7 (Barnes 3, Miller 2, Birch 2) Blocks 0 Turnovers 10 Total Fouls 23.
Tony Fiegen 4-7 1-2 9, Jordan Dykstra 3-10 2-4 8, Nate Wolters 8-13 3-6 21, Taevaunn Prince 2-6 3-3 7, Brayden Carlson 2-12 0-0 6, Jake Bittle 2-6 0-0 4, Chad White 6-8 2-4 19, Marcus Heemstra 2-4 3-4 7. Totals 29-66 14-23 81. 3-pointers 9-24 (White 5-7, Wolters 2-4, Carlson 2-8) Rebounds 42 (Fiegen 10, Wolters 10, Dykstra 7) Steals 3 (Heemstra, Carlson, Fiegen) Blocks 4 (Dysktra 2) Turnovers 8 Total Fouls 10.
Halftime Score: SDSU 38, SMSU 33
"It was probably a combination of a lot of things," Bigler said of the rebounding disparity. "One, they are a little bigger at different positions than us, especially when Nick is out of the game. Two, they shoot a lot of perimeter shots, so there's a lot of long rebounds, a lot of hard misses where we need to be able to chase that ball down. And I thought they were better at pursuing those long rebounds. Lastly, I think there were times where we could have been better at boxing out and they just took advantage of us not boxing out."
SMSU shot 51 percent from the field in the game, taking advantage of open looks thanks to the extra pass. The Mustangs had just eight assists in a 75-67 defeat to Michigan Tech in their home opener on Nov. 15. Against Division I SDSU, the Mustangs totaled 19 assists, led by Jordan Miller's seven.
"I think the 19 assists shows that we were sharing the basketball better," Bigler said. "That is a positive coming out of the game. I thought there were times where we could have been a little more aggressive versus their zone. Overall, any time you have 19 assists, that's a pretty high number and that's exactly what we want to do."
Matt Zager's 13 points were tops for the Mustangs, who placed four players in double-digits. Lavione West (12), Smith (10) and William Giddings (11) each were in double figures. Zager's totals, including 3-for-3 from 3-point range, were especially inspiring since the junior guard was returning to action after suffering a concussion.
"That's what we were missing our last few games is a guy that can get to the rim and finish," Bigler said of Zager. "I thought Matt did a great job tonight with his minutes and he was aggressive on the offensive end, just getting to the rim and being able to finish over their bigger athletes."
With the loss, the Mustangs fall to 2-3 on the season and 3-12 all-time against D-I teams. SMSU heads to Maryville, Mo., for a weekend tournament hosted by Northwest Missouri State. The Mustangs will tip off against Central Missouri at 1 p.m. Saturday before taking on Northwest Missouri State at 3 p.m. on Sunday.