Coyotes sweep ND teams for 3-game lead in NCC

Coyotes sweep ND teams for 3-game lead in NCC In a crucial home series with North Dakota State and North Dakota, the South Dakota men's basketball team opened up a three-game lead in the North Central Conference race after a 74-62 win over NDSU Friday followed by a 66-62 victory over UND Saturday.

The sweep improved the Coyotes' record to 20-2 and 11-2 in the NCC with five league games remaining. USD is on the road the next two weeks starting with Morningside Saturday, and Minnesota State-Mankato and St. Cloud State February 25-26.

The last time South Dakota posted a four-game home-and-away season series sweep over North Dakota and North Dakota State came during the 1972-73 season under Bob Mulcahy when USD went 17-9 and 10-4 in the NCC.

In a tight game down the stretch against North Dakota, the Coyotes were forced to rally late in the second half. The Sioux, after trailing 36-26 at halftime, came back and eventually took a 56-52 lead with 5:27 remaining. The Coyotes then went on an 8-0 scoring run on free throws for a 60-56 margin with 37 seconds to play. In fact, USD went 12 of 13 from the charity stripe during the final five minutes. It was Jason Barrow who gave the Coyotes the lead for good (58-56) with a field goal at the 2:04 mark.

The Coyotes, who shot 36.2 percent to UND's 36.1, were led by Nathan Blessen's 21 points. Jeremy Kudera had 19 points and Barrow had 13. Kudera and Barrow pulled down 11 and 10 rebounds, respectively. Nate Tibbetts had 8 points and nine assists. USD held a 41-39 edge in rebounds. The Coyotes were 20 of 25 from the free throw line, while UND was 10-for-15. Free throws again played a huge factor against North Dakota State. USD converted 17 of 18 free throws during the final four minutes and 26 of 32 for the game

The Coyotes, who led only 26-25 at halftime, took an 11-point lead at 43-32 at the 12:45 mark of the second half. NDSU answered and came within 1 point at 51-50 with 6:02 left. USD responded with consecutive 3-pointers from Ries and Tibbetts, and from that point on it was all free throws by the Coyotes.

Blessen led USD with 18 points. Ries had 16 points with 14 apiece for Kudera and Barrow. The Coyotes shot 43.5 percent compared to 48.8 for NDSU. The Bison, who committed 23 turnovers to USD's 11, held a 31-24 edge in rebounds. Barrow paced the Coyotes with eight boards and Kudera pulled down seven. Tibbetts finished with eight assists, five steals and 5 points. Eric Hickenbottom added 7 points.

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