VERMILLION � Soon after the buzzer sounded, a young North Dakota squad celebrated with its green-clad fans, while the rest of the DakotaDome crowd headed for the exits in stunned silence.
They had just watched the University of South Dakota men struggle in nearly every way possible in losing to the rival Sioux for the second time in three weeks.
Capturing a regular season sweep for the first time in seven years, North Dakota defeated a frustrated Coyote team 83-73 in Saturday night�s Great West Conference showdown.
The key stat? USD was just 1-for-19 on three-pointers, an output that head coach Dave Boots in head-shaking disbelief during the post-game press conference.
�I just don�t understand how we�re playing so poorly on that offensive end,� Boots said. �The guys we have we think are pretty good shooters. We�re screening well; we�re getting the ball to them, but it�s a big issue right now.
�You can�t shoot that poorly and have a great basketball team; you can�t even have a decent team.�
The recent three-point shooting woes for the Coyotes (11-11, 3-2) reached a new low against a physical UND defense that continually hounded the perimeter.
USD, which had not lost twice to North Dakota since the 2003-04 season, has now connected on only 31-of-125 three-pointers in its last six games � including a 2-for-16 clip in the last meeting with the Sioux.
�It was tough because every time we shot, we had a hand in our face,� junior Charlie Westbrook said. �Those guys were closing out on us pretty hard. That�s how we practice in warmups, with a hand in our face.
�Tonight we didn�t make those plays, that�s why we came up short.�
Adding to the frustration was North Dakota�s relentless drives to the rim. The Sioux scored 44 of their 83 points in the paint, thanks mostly to production from its freshman class.
Coming into the game, UND�s five freshman accounted for 64.7 percent of the team�s scoring, which ranked No. 1 in the nation. Against the Coyotes, that group combined for 59 points � led by 17 points and 10 rebounds from redshirt freshman Brandon Brekke.
�They start two big guys, and they bring in some off the bench; just kept rotating them in,� said USD freshman forward Trevor Gruis, who had game highs with 18 points and 14 rebounds.
�They�re all good players down underneath,� he added. �It�s just how it goes now, every game is going to be like that.�
Down by four at halftime, the Coyotes trimmed a six-point margin midway through the second half into a 59-57 deficit on a layup by Gruis. A minute later, North Dakota freshman Troy Huff slammed down a massive one-handed dunk in the lane, and the Sioux never looked back.
The closest USD came down the stretch was 67-63 on a pair of free throws by Westbrook, but the Sioux quickly pulled back ahead by seven.
�We had a very tough time guarding them. We played man-to-man and we couldn�t contain the perimeter,� Boots said. �They got to the basket almost at will on us.�
Yet, in the end, it seemed as though it wasn�t so much what North Dakota was doing, it was what South Dakota wasn�t doing. As in, hitting long-range shots.
USD�s only three-pointer of the game came from junior Louie Krogman in the first half, which tied the game at 17. Even then, the Sioux responded in kind with a three that gave them the lead for good.
In the second half, the Coyotes were 0-for-11.
�It�s hard to play the game if you shoot like that,� Boots said. �You put yourself in a situation where every stop becomes huge, but it kept building and building. We never got into rhythm.
�We did make that comeback; made it closer,� he added. �We had a good look at it (Jake Thomas missed a potential go-ahead three after Gruis pulled USD within two points), but it didn�t go in.�
Despite the shooting woes, the Coyotes still finished with five players in double figures, led by Gruis� 18 points. Westbrook scored 15, while Jake Thomas had 13, Kendall Cutler had 12 and Krogman added 11.
Now with two conference losses, USD plays five of its final seven Great West games on the road. With that much time left, the Coyotes won�t give up, according to Gruis.
�Coach was talking in the locker room that it�s character test right now,� he said. �We stick together as a team or we fall apart and call it a season because we lost a couple of games.
�There�s a lot conference schedule left, we�re not out of it yet. It can still work out in the end.�
Added Westbrook, �I still believe in our team; all of our guys do. We just have to stick together and work hard.�