With two key contributors not available, the University of South Dakota was going to have to make do with a different look.
Despite an early defensive lapse, those changes resulted in a lopsided victory.
A hot-shooting NAIA Midland University squad gave a normally tight Division I defense fits from long range in the first half, but USD claimed a 93-69 win on Tuesday night at the DakotaDome in Vermillion.
The Coyotes (7-7) were without starting point guard Kendall Cutler, who is still stuck in his native New York because of the blizzard on the East Coast. And sophomore reserve guard Jake Thomas was out after tweaking an ankle in practice.
And so, in stepped sophomore guard Jordan Boots to make his first career start.
Their shot selection was really good, and they spaced the floor really well, which gave us problems that way, said Boots, who scored a career-high 26 points in 31 minutes of action.
We were in that zone in the first half, and they spaced and got really wide open shots.
The Warriors, of the Great Plains Athletic Conference, were 10-of-17 on three-pointers in the first half but finished 11-of-29 in the game.
But the Coyotes were just too much in the end.
We did some things tonight and we did some bad things, from start to finish, head coach Dave Boots said. There were some situations in the first half where we had some guys in our defense playing in spots they hadnt before, and they struggled with that; made some poor decisions.
We did a better job with that in the second half, taking away some open looks they had.
Prior to Tuesdays game, USD had allowed opponents to shoot just 28 percent on three-pointers for a total of 67. Midland, meanwhile, found the going much easier against that new-look Coyote defense, which threw out its traditional matchup zone look.
Up 13 points at halftime, after having surrendered a 50-percent shooting effort to the Warriors, the Coyotes switched to a man-to-man defense for the second half.
And judging by Midlands 1-of-12 effort on long-range shots in the final 20 minutes, the change worked.
I think we just have to communicate better on defense, said USD junior Ricardo Andreotti, who had a double-double with 15 points and 12 rebounds. We do it in practice, its just a matter of knowing where each guy is supposed to be.
Early on, it looked as though USD would put the visitors away quickly.
After five quick points from Midland senior guard P.J. Mallette, the Coyotes embarked on a 23-0 run, with the Warriors finally getting back on the scoreboard at the 13:02 mark.
Another USD run, this time 13-0, made the score 36-10, and the lead fluctuated from around 20 for the next four minutes.
And thats when it started raining threes for Midland.
After being down by 25, the Warriors sank seven three-pointers in the final 5:50 of the first half. The usually-stout Coyote defense was surrendering open looks.
Marcus Messersmith, Midlands leading scorer coming in, hit the final three and the Warriors trailed just 53-40 at halftime.
We wanted to make them have to shoot off the cut, coach Boots said. In the first half, because of people we had playing in certain areas, they were able to get their feet set, catch and release. With our normal guys playing in those spots, weve been able to not allow that.
Order was restored a bit out of the gate in the second half.
After Midland pulled within 11 on a short jumper, the Coyotes reeled off 11 straight points to lead 64-42.
The cushion dwindled down to 16 on a layup and free throw by Mallette with 9:53 to play. Three minutes later, it was down to 75-61 on a put-back by Gavin Blum.
Thats as close as Midland would get.
Five Coyotes scored in double figures, led by Boots 26 and Westbrooks 17. Andreotti added his 15 points, while Louie Krogman scored 12 despite shooting just 4-of-14 from the field. Freshman forward Trevor Gruis chipped in with 11 points and nine rebounds.
But the most telling stat, according to coach Boots, was free throws where USD was just 17-of-35.
If we could shoot our free throws the way a college basketball team should shoot them, we wouldve had a good night offensively, he said. Thats very disappointing. Guys have to get in the gym and start putting some time into it.
Thats been a weakness of our team from the get-go this year.
The Warriors, who are 0-5 in the GPAC, had three in double figures, led by Messersmiths 17 points. Mallette and Allen Van Gundy added 12 apiece, while Alex Knobbe had nine points and nine rebounds.