Things came down to the final game of the regular season, but the South Dakota State Jackrabbits earned a share of the regular season title in the Summit League with a 12-4 record.
Due to the tie-breaking procedures, they earned the 2-seed in the conference tournament, while the IPFW Mastodons were awarded the top seed.
On their journey towards the conference championship, the Jackrabbits had to fight to reach the finals. A three-point win over the Oral Roberts Golden Eagles in the quarter-finals was followed by a come-from-behind win over the Denver Pioneers in the semi-finals, in which South Dakota State won by a single point.
The Jackrabbits were unquestionably tired after their tough two games, but they were one win away from the NCAA Tournament. In the top half of the bracket, upset victories led the 5th-seed North Dakota State Bison to the Summit League championship for another instalment in the rivalry between them and the Jackrabbits.
North Dakota State had their sights set on the Big Dance, but the Jackrabbits weren’t about to let their hard work from the previous two games go to waste.
South Dakota State persevered, pulling away from the Bison in the second-half to come away with the 67-59 victory, and a coveted spot in the NCAA Tournament.
With the game being the third in as many days for both teams, it was a slow start out of the gate for both squads. Neither team scored for over two minutes before Ian Theisen broke the deadlock with a layup at 17:45.
Points were at a premium early on, as the score was 12-10 in favour of the Bison as the opening half ticked past the halfway point. Dexter Werner hit a jumper at the 10:11 mark to give North Dakota State the two-point cushion.
South Dakota State responded with a 7-0 run of their own to take a five-point lead. Freshman sensation Mike Daum scored his first two points of the game to cap off the run, a jumper with 8:40 to play in the half.
The Bison would retake the lead on a pair of occasions down the stretch, but the Jackrabbits would stretch their lead back to 4 with 1:17 to play. After misses from both teams in the final minute, the Bison had the last shot of the half and they made it count.
Carlin Dupree beat the buzzer with a three-pointer from straight on to send the Bison into the locker room with a shot of momentum, bringing them back to within 30-29.
Early in the second half, the teams would trade baskets as the Bison tried to retake a lead and build off the momentum they created at the end of the opening 20 minutes. Paul Miller hit a pair of free throws at the 14:13 mark to give the Bison a slim one -point lead, at 40-39.
North Dakota State’s lead would last a grand total of 8 seconds, as Keaton Moffitt answered with a jumper to give the Jackrabbits the lead right back, at 41-40.
From then on out, South Dakota State would hold onto the lead and never look back. They slowly built their lead, stretching it to as many as 11 points. A three pointer from Deondre Parks with 4:10 to play in the game gave the Jackrabbits a 59-48 lead, and the party was starting back in Brookings, SD.
North Dakota State would cut the lead down to 6 in the closing minutes, but the Jackrabbits held off the Bison’s rally with timely free throw shooting.
For the third time in the last five seasons, the South Dakota State Jackrabbits are dancing in March, this time thanks to a 67-59 victory over the North Dakota State Bison.
On the night, rebounding was a big factor in the outcome of the game. The Bison were out-rebounded 39-26, including 13-4 on the offensive glass.
Carlin Dupree led the way for the Bison, scoring a game-high 19 points to go along with 4 rebounds in the loss. A.J. Jacobson was limited to just 4 points on 1-of-5 shooting.
Dexter Werner came off the bench to add 9 points of his own.
For most of the season, freshman Mike Daum has been a spark off the bench for the Jackrabbits, and tonight was more of the same. In 23 minutes of floor time, he scored a team-high 18 points to go along with 9 rebounds, landing Summit League Tournament MVP honours in the process for his performance over the three day event.
Deondre Parks chipped in with 14 points and 6 rebounds, as four different Jackrabbits scored in double-figures in the victory.
Despite the loss, the North Dakota State Bison (20-13, 8-8) have nothing to hang their heads about. After a .500 showing in the regular season, an appearance in the conference championship as the 5-seed is an impressive feat. They will play the waiting game to see if they get an invite to appear in another post-season event.
Make it three times in the past five years for the South Dakota State Jackrabbits (26-7, 12-4) in the NCAA Tournament, and their first appearance since 2013. The Summit League has been represented by either the Bison or Jackrabbits over the last five years. Come Selection Sunday, the Bison will find out their opening round location and opponent, and begin preparations almost immediately.