After Thursday night's 66-53 loss to Oral Roberts, University of South Dakota's head coach Ryun Williams promised that his team would respond.
They did so on Saturday as they picked up their first home win in the Summit League as the Coyotes outlasted the resilient Southern Utah Thunderbirds 81-69 at the DakotaDome Saturday afternoon.
"Southern Utah did a good job of taking it at us and we had a tough time making stops," Williams said. "They were a little frustrating but our team definitely responded."
The Coyotes weren't frustrated as they used a 12-0 run to take a 14-2 lead.
Jodie Boss scored twice from the block while blocking a pair of Thunderbird shots on the other end as the Coyotes were dominating the court's full 90 feet.
Tempestt Wilson and Alexis Yackley each tacked on 3-pointers during the run.
The T-Birds made their first field goal of the game at the 13:28 mark as Hailey Mandelko cued up from the corner for a 3-pointer.
Mandelko's shot sparked a 7-0 Thunderbird run as Kimie Hawkins followed with a hoop on a drive and Carli Moreland worked for an offensive rebound and bucket, trimming USD's lead to 14-9.
A 9-2 spurt from the Thunderbirds further cut into the USD lead.
Brenna Gates knocked down a pair of free throws and scored on a down-low dish from Moreland. Hawkins converted a short jumper and Mandelko swished another trey, and suddenly the Coyote lead was just 27-25.
Amber Hegge scored eight points in the final 2:32 of the half, keeping the Coyotes in front 36-31 going into the break.
Hegge had 17 points at the half to lead all scorers while Mandelko, Southern Utah's top-scorer with 12.5 points-per-game, led the Thunderbirds with 11 points.
With Hegge too much for Southern Utah to handle one on one, the 6-1 senior kicked out to Annie Roche, who was left wide open as the T-Bird defense collapsed on Hegge. Roche swished the shot and USD's lead was again manageable at 45-37 with 15:59 to play.
But as they were all afternoon, the Thunderbirds would not go away.
Southern Utah closed to within five at 55-50 after a trey from D.J. Norman at the 11:10 mark, and to 59-56 on a jumper from Norman with 8:49 remaining.
Up stepped Kelly Stewart, a 6-0 freshman who has played 17 minutes over her last five games, including a 1-minute cameo against Oral Roberts Thursday.
Stewart coolly swished a 3-pointer, her first shot of the game, giving the Coyotes a 62-56 lead.
From there, the Coyotes never looked back.
Stewart made six of six free throws, Hegge assisted Boss on a bucket, and Alexis Yackley scored from downtown, and the Coyotes pocketed the 81-69 win for their second league victory of the season.
"They definitely stayed it in it for a long time, so we really had to toughen up in the second half, but we're happy for the win," Hegge said. "Kelly knocked down a really big shot and she made some free throws; it was really a team effort."
Stewart finished with nine points in her 14 critical minutes on the floor.
"Kelly had great minutes; she's a bigger, stronger guard and she was able to turn the corner and get to the free-throw line," Williams said of the freshman from Amery, Wis. "That three was huge – she shot it with great confidence and great tempo; you're going to see Kelly Stewart get more and more minutes as the season goes on."
Hegge led all scorers with 28 points while adding five assists, three steals and three blocked shots.
Boss had 14 points, 10 rebounds, and her third game of the season with seven blocks.
Yackley scored 15 points, six assists, and at 5-7, got in on the block party with three blocks as the Coyotes blocked 13 shots as a team.
"She does everything and I love it," Boss said of Yackley. "She sees everything and she can hit some shots when she's open; she's just a good all-around player."
Mandelko scored just two points in the second half but led Southern Utah with 13 points. Six players hit double figures for the T-Birds as Hawkins scored 12, Norman and Moreland each scored 11 points, and Andrea Jones and Brenna Gates each netted 10 points.
Southern Utah (4-9, 0-2) committed 31 fouls in the game and had five players whistled for four fouls each, but no T-Birds fouled out.
The Coyotes, now 2-2 in the Summit and 9-3 overall, face a tough task as they play three of their next four games on the road, playing at Missouri-Kansas City Jan. 7 and at North Dakota State Jan. 14 and at the renewed archrival South Dakota State Jan. 16. The Coyotes host Cornell at 7 p.m. Jan. 9.
"It was important to get this win because those next four games are going to be tough with games at North Dakota State and SDSU in there," Williams said. "This is a big win for a lot of reasons."