Following two sub-par offensive outputs, the South Dakota men's basketball team needed a spark.
Something to get the Coyotes rolling.
For now, put a check mark next to that goal.
"We're a developing team. We have a lot of work to do," said coach Dave Boots, whose team edged Nebraska-Omaha 83-81 in a nail-biter Sunday afternoon at the DakotaDome.
The Coyotes (1-2) moved freshman guard Brandon Bos into the starting lineup and gave Nimrod Hilliard – another freshman – 25 minutes at the point guard spot.
"The kids are working hard, we're just not hitting all cylinders with defense or the offense right now," Boots added of the home opener. "It was certainly a team win."
Not only did the Coyotes beat their future Summit League rivals, they bettered their season scoring average by nearly 30 points.
Oddly enough, it was two free throws by Trevor Gruis with 6.3 seconds left that proved to be the difference.
"It was close and guys made some plays at the end, but we shouldn't have ever been in that position to begin with," said Gruis, who scored 15 points and hauled in six rebounds.
"It was definitely nice to get that win in a tough situation like this."
Nebraska-Omaha (1-3), in its first year in the Division I transition, got a combined 42 points from Mitch Albers (23) and Alex Welhouse (19) – a duo that made life miserable for the Coyote defense all day.
A three-pointer by Welhouse with 2:10 left tied the game at 79. Albers later hit two free throws to put UNO ahead 81-79 with 1:43 left.
USD's Steve Tecker hit a corner jumper at the 46.0 second mark to tie the game at 81. The Mavericks had a couple of chances under the basket with 15 seconds left, but couldn't convert.
The Coyotes drove down the court, got the ball to Gruis, who was fouled. Nebraska-Omaha's C.J. Carter drove down the court and had a reverse layup deflected away by USD's Ricardo Andreotti – sealing the tight win for the Coyotes.
"We pulled out a close game; sometimes it's hard to do in college," said senior guard Louie Krogman, who scored a team-high 16 points – all in the first half. "Trevor made two huge free throws, but we've got to play better in the second half.
"It should have never been that close, but you live and you learn."
Chief among those areas of improvement was defense, according to Boots. UNO made seven of its first eight shots to start the second half, with most coming on layups or looks under the basket.
"Our man to man defense was not good; that was not acceptable," Boots said. "Believe me, we have spent most of our time in the fall and early practices just continually working on that area.
"You've got to have great athletes to be a great defensive team, and we're not all the way through with that."
The offense, however, showed more direct signs of progression – compared to the losses at Nebraska and Eastern Washington.
With Hilliard doing most of the point guard duties, Krogman was able to play the off-guard position, which he said could be the plan moving forward. Hilliard posted eight points, four rebounds and three assists in his debut.
Charlie Westbrook scored 15 points and dished out six assists, while Jordan Boots added 11 points off the bench. Fellow reserve Steve Tecker recorded nine points and eight rebounds.
"We had better spacing on the floor," Krogman said. "I think we attacked a lot more on the dribble and guys made better decisions."
The Coyotes return to road action on Tuesday for an 8 p.m. matchup at Wyoming.