Boots boasts 600 wins with win over Tabor

There was a special significance to South Dakota men’s basketball team’s contest against Tabor in the DakotaDome Monday night.  (Photo by David Lias)

Sure, the win was a milestone in University of South Dakota lore, but it still took prevention of a major upset.

Despite struggling in almost every area, the Coyotes held off NAIA Tabor 69-63 in a sluggish men's contest Monday night in Vermillion.

The victory – much needed for USD, which opens Summit League action Thursday at Oakland – was the 600th in the career of head coach Dave Boots.

"This is exactly where I've always wanted to be," said Boots, who is now 600-263 in his career. "It's a great place to coach. I appreciate everything everyone's done for us."

What Tabor did for him and the Coyotes on Monday was make life miserable, though USD certainly didn't help its cause by going 2-of-14 on three-pointers and missing 16 free throws.

"I thought we had good looks, but we're not making shots, inside our outside," Boots said. "Our offense is getting the kids we want shooting it, we're just not hitting them."

The USD defense wasn't exactly sharp either, as Tabor – which lost by 51 points in Vermillion last season – got within one point with 1:22 left, but free throws padded the lead for USD.

Tabor, a school located in Kansas, held advantages in three-pointers (7-2), rebounds (43-38) and offensive rebounds (15-7).

"We didn't execute in our zone defense and got beat in some man to man situations," said senior Charlie Westbrook, who scored a game-high 21 points on 7-of-12 shooting.

"We got some key stops down the stretch, but they played really well; I give credit to that team."

The sluggish 40 minutes didn't exactly allow for much of a celebration for Boots, but the veteran coach was acknowledged with a loud ovation at the end of the game.

In his 32nd year on the sidelines, Boots becomes the 64th men's basketball coach to record 600 wins and the 13th still active.

Among the highlights on his USD resume, Boots – named USD coach in April 1988 – has recorded sixteen 20-win seasons, six conference titles (5 in Division II and one in D-I) and has never had a losing season in Vermillion.

"We've had a lot of really good players, and if you keep doing it for as long as we have, you better have good ones," Boots said. "We've been blessed with that.

"We've had an enormous number of very good assistant coaches, and most of those are our guys. That's one of the most special things we've had here."

Yet, the focus after the game Monday wasn't the career win, it was the things USD didn't do against its NAIA opponent.

While USD made seven of its first 11 shots, Tabor wasn't exactly going quietly. The Bluejays took a 13-12 lead six minutes in and stayed within striking distance the entire half.

Louie Krogman followed with a go-ahead runner in the lane and the Coyotes built the lead from there – taking a 31-24 cushion into halftime.

The biggest issue for USD was let-downs on defense. Tabor was just 9-of-34 from the field, but had more than its share of good looks.

With USD not hitting a field goal for eight and a half minutes, Tabor started the second half on a 15-4 run.

The Coyotes tied the game at 41 with 12:31 left, and responded with seven straight points to pull in front 46-41 with 10:54 to play.

Tabor was within two baskets – six times within one point – for the next eight minutes. Frustration was evident on the faces of the USD players (and coaches) as Tabor consistently got rebounds and had open shots.

Not that they necessarily sought a challenge like Monday, the Coyotes will take it heading into Thursday's Summit League opener at Oakland.

The Golden Grizzlies have posted back-to-back 17-1 records in conference action, won the Summit League tournament title both times and qualified for the NCAA Tournament.

"Rebounding, that's the first key to winning in that league," Westbrook said. "If we can guard, I think our offense will eventually come. We're not worried about that, we know we can come around.

"We want to work on that defensive end."

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