USD grabs championship South Dakota captured its third North Central Conference men's basketball championship in this decade and ninth in school history with a home sweep over Minnesota State-Mankato (78-61) and St. Cloud State (91-57) Feb. 19-20.
The Coyotes improved to 21-4 overall and 13-3 in the NCC.
The Coyotes, who have won the most conference games (129) of any NCC team during the last 11 seasons, clinched the league crown outright with a solid performance against St. Cloud State. USD shot 50.8 percent from the field and held the Huskies to only 28.6.
USD, which won back-to-back NCC titles in 1993 and 1994 when the Coyotes reached the NCAA Elite Eight National Tournament, set the tone early in the game when Jason Barrow connected on a 3-point field goal just 26 seconds into the contest. The Coyotes, ranked No. 11 in the NABC Division II poll and No. 2 in the North Central Region, never let up and opened up a 49-23 halftime cushion.
Barrow was 10-for-12 from the field against St. Cloud State and finished with 24 points and 10 rebounds.
"Everybody knew what they had to do tonight and we went out and got it, like a pack of wild dogs," Barrow said.
Barrow also had a double-double in the Minnesota State game with 10 points and 10 boards.
Nathan Blessen and Jeremy Kudera finished with 15 and 12 points, respectively, against the Huskies, while Eric Hickenbottom came off the bench for 10 points. Ben Ries and Joey James scored 7 points apiece, with 6 for Kory Petzenhauser.
The Coyotes outrebounded the Huskies, 45-37.
Head Coach Dave Boots said the Coyotes have won a lot of close games but "you need those to win the conference. And the kids finished it off with a great effort tonight."
Kudera said the NCC title is special.
"We were pretty loose before the game tonight," he said. "And that's the way we played. Nice and loose. We had fun out there. It really hasn't sunk in yet. This is something we've been thinking about since we were recruited. It's unbelievable. This team sticks together. I think we deserve this."
"This team plays very well together," Boots added. "They're unselfish, there are guys who come off the bench and play like starters. They show up for practice ready to play every day. They're a great team to coach."
As the players cut the nets down from the basketball standards in the DakotaDome, team members hugged each other and other students.
"The fans have done a great
job of motivating us this season," said senior Joey James.
South Dakota staged a late first-half rally in taking a 36-29 halftime edge over Minnesota State. The Coyotes, who led by nine points at 19-10 at the 10:23 mark, fell behind 29-28 with 4:01 left in the half. However, USD answered with an 8-0 scoring spree to close out the period. The Coyotes never trailed in the second half as they built double-digit margins.
Blessen sparked the Coyotes with 20 points, while Ries tallied 16 points fueled by 4 three-pointers. Anestis Tsakalaidis came up with 8 points, and Kudera popped in 7 along with 9 rebounds.
Petzenhauser and James each scored 6 points. USD, which held a 44-29 rebounding advantage, shot 49.0 percent compared to 34.4 for the Mavericks.