USD finishes Great West in style

All that was left was just to play.

Yet, the University of South Dakota men didn't just play, they continued the momentum from the previous night's emotional win and picked up a few milestones along the way.

Having already clinched the Great West Conference title and the No. 1 seed for this week's postseason tournament, the Coyotes easily handled New Jersey Tech 83-49 on Sunday night in the DakotaDome.

In the 11th straight win for the Coyotes (20-9, 11-1), senior center Steve Smith reached 1,000 career points — that coming with 3.7 seconds left. USD also eclipsed 20 wins for the seventh straight season.

Not bad for a regular season finale.

"I've been through a lot here," said Smith, a senior center in his fifth year with the Coyotes. "I didn't get a chance to score 1,000 points in high school, so that was a goal I had for college. Getting there really means a lot to me."

The Sioux Falls native, who got an injury waiver from the NCAA for a sixth year of college eligibility, scored 21 points to lead the Coyotes past a New Jersey Tech squad that arrived in Vermillion on Sunday morning.

In a game that was never really close, USD shot 50.9 percent from the field and drained nine three-pointers, after hitting 16 in Saturday night's win over Houston Baptist.

"I was pretty sure we wouldn't have a letdown or anything like that," USD coach Dave Boots said. "We still had a game against a really good New Jersey team, and we told our guys we just needed to come out strong again."

The Coyotes opened the game like they finished on Saturday.

USD got three-pointers from Gentry, Krogman and Smith in a span of just under three minutes to lead 13-8 at the 14:22 mark. The lead reached double digits, 27-16, on another trey from Krogman six minutes later.

At two points in the first half, the USD cushion reached 16 points, and at halftime, the Coyotes led 40-27.

"We knew Saturday would be huge, but we also knew there was a tough game (Sunday)," Smith said. "We just wanted to come out and play hard, and we definitely got it done."

Just under four minutes in the second half, the USD cushion ballooned to 50-29 after sophomore reserve Louie Krogman drained a three-pointer. The Highlanders (9-20, 4-8) would get no closer than 16 points the rest of the way.

New Jersey Tech had no answer for USD's defensive pressure and transition game down the stretch, as the visitors were just 8-of-37 from the field in the second half.

"We had another solid defensive effort tonight, I thought, especially holding them to 28 percent," Boots said. "To their (NJIT) credit, they missed some shots and were in a tough situation after traveling to get here in a hurry."

The only thing to be determined late was if Smith would reach 1,000 points.

Needing 20 points for the milestone coming into the game, the 6-foot-11 center scored on a transition layup with 3.7 seconds left — eliciting a nice ovation from the Dome crowd and his teammates.

"Steven played really well and has been playing with more confidence lately," Boots said. "If we get him going, it takes more pressure off everybody else. That's a great honor for him; he's worked his tail off for this program.

"We couldn't be happier for him."

In a game highlighted by USD's offense, Smith wasn't the only threat for the Coyotes.

Senior Roman Gentry scored 16 points, while Krogman added 14, and senior Tyler Cain recorded 11 points and 14 rebounds. Junior point guard Kendall Cutler chipped in with 10 points.

Leading the way for the Highlanders, who had won once in five games coming in, freshman guard Chris Flores scored a game-high 26 points. Jheryl Wilson added 10 points and eight rebounds.

USD will next compete in the Great West Conference postseason tournament, starting Wednesday in Orem, Utah. The Coyotes, as the No. 1 seed, receive a first round bye and will play the winner of the No. 4/5 contest.

The winner of the tournament receives an invitation to the Tournament.

"We definitely want to win that tournament and see how we can do out there," Smith said. "That's a goal we've had all season and we're just anxious to get out there."

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