On a night when long-range shots and free throws weren't falling on a regular basis, a pair of seniors picked up the slack.
And that leadership was precisely the difference.
Roman Gentry and Tyler Cain combined for 41 points to lead the University of South Dakota men's basketball team to a gritty 75-63 win over Longwood on Tuesday night in the DakotaDome.
In winning over a Division I independent with four returning starters from a 17-win season, the Coyotes (8-8) fought through a 2-of-10 effort on three-pointers and a 19-of-31 clip from the free throw line.
Still, USD escaped the back-and-forth contest on top.
"We didn't finish a lot of plays; left a lot of points out there," head coach Dave Boots said. "We've got to do a better job on that. They're a very quick and talented team, so we knew this would be a difficult game.
"But we're very pleased to win this one."
And in the process, the Coyotes were given a stiff test in the final tune-up before the Great West Conference season begins on Saturday at home against North Dakota.
The game was heavily contested until the final two minutes. Each time Longwood (4-14), which completed its D-I transition in 2007, appeared ready to tie the game, either Gentry or Cain were there to shut the door.
The senior duo combined to score nine of USD's final 17 points. After Longwood pulled within 59-57 with 8:45 to play, Gentry converted a layup to begin a 5-0 run for the Coyotes.
Gentry later drained a three-pointer — he had both for the Coyotes — to push USD ahead 69-59. And from there, the lead never dipped below eight.
"They were a tough defensive team and were always up on you really tight," said Gentry, who had 21 points and seven rebounds. "We wanted to come out with energy, to get ready for the conference."
Yet, it was both teams that brought the intensity. In the first half, there were six lead changes and four ties before USD took a 32-29 lead into the halftime break.
The three-pointers that were falling against Southern Illinois University Edwardsville on Saturday were being covered by Longwood's quick defenders. USD hit just 1-of-6 perimeter shots in the opening half.
"It was hard to get open against their athleticism," Boots said. "Everything was contested; there weren't very many free looks. We've got good shooters, but it's just tough to make contested shots."
Though USD never trailed in the second half, the game was far from one-sided. The Coyotes got back-to-back layups to pull ahead 52-42 with 13:43 left, only to see the Lancers get within 54-51 three minutes later.
And then at the 8:45 mark, Longwood's Aaron Mitchell hit a reverse layup to cut the USD lead to 59-57.
"We got a little impatient on offense and they were making tough shots," Gentry said. "But we settled down and figured things out."
In the end, USD won consecutive D-I games for the first time this season, and the second time since leaving Division II. On Saturday night, the Coyotes routed SIU-Edwardsville 100-76, a day after suffering a close loss to Cornell.
"We've had some close losses at home, so we're trying to get over the hump and get some wins," said junior point guard Kendall Cutler, who had 12 points and a game-high five assists.
The Coyotes also got eight points and five rebounds from Mitchell Bouie, while Jake Thomas and Steve Smith each scored four points.
Longwood, which was 17-14 last season, got 19 points and nine rebounds from Dana Smith. Antwan Carter had a double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds, while Aaron Mitchell scored 12 points.
USD begins Great West Conference play at home on Saturday night, with an 8 p.m. contest against rival North Dakota (2-14). The Sioux will face Utah Valley in Orem, Utah, on Thursday night before trekking to Vermillion.
"We're all excited to get that going," Gentry said. "We've had some close losses, but I feel like we're ready for the conference."
E.J. Dawson 1-5 0-0 2; Billy Robinson Jr. 4-7 0-0 8; Aaron Mitchell 5-12 2-5 12; Dana Smith 6-11 4-6 19; Kevin Swecker 0-5 0-0 0; Antwan Carter 5-15 3-3 13; Martiz Washington 2-5 0-0 6; Earl Gee II 1-3 1-2 3; Jan van der Kooij 0-1 0-0 0. TOTALS 24-64 10-16 63.
SOUTH DAKOTA (8-8)
Roman Gentry 7-14 5-6 21; Kendall Cutler 3-5 6-12 12; Jake Thomas 1-4 2-2 4; Tyler Cain 8-14 4-9 20; Steve Smith 1-4 2-2 4; Mitchell Bouie 4-5 0-0 8; Louie Krogman 0-3 0-0 0; Jordan Boots 0-1 0-0 0; Conrad Krutwig 3-4 0-0 6; Dustin Tetzlaff 0-0 0-0 0. TOTALS 27-54 19-31 75.
At The Half: USD 32, LU 29. Three-Pointers: LU 5-13 (Smith 3-4, Washington 2-5, van der Kooij 0-1), USD 2-10 (Gentry 2-3, Smith 0-1, Boots 0-1, Krogman 0-2, Thomas 0-3). Total Rebounds: USD 42 (Cain 14), LU 34 (Carter 11). Assists: USD 17 (Cutler 5), LU 14 (Gee II 5). Blocks: USD 6 (Cain 4), LU 4 (Robinson Jr. 2). Personal Fouls: LU 20, USD 12. Fouled Out: LU (Smith). A: 1,056.