The University of South Dakota Coyotes proved that their rivalry with the South Dakota State is back.
In front of a euphoric DakotaDome crowd Monday night, the Coyotes beat their once and again in-state rivals for the first time since 2003, coming back from nine points down in the final minutes and needing overtime to beat the SDSU Jackrabbits 59-53.
"We got stops when we needed them, we gutted out some defensive possessions, and we got some rebounds," USD head coach Ryun Williams said. "We didn't have much rhythm tonight, but we found it at the right time."
"We made plays when we needed them to be made," USD senior forward Amber Hegge said. "They maybe weren't pretty but we just made basketball plays."
The Jacks, who have thwarted Coyote hopes with run-making shots in their previous two meetings since SDSU left the North Central Confernce in 2004, seemed to do it again as Jennie Sunnarborg banked in a shot high off the glass and Steph Paluch banked in a 3-pointer to give the reviled visitors a 44-38 lead with 4:31 remaining in regulation.
Gabrielle Boever added to the SDSU lead with a 3-pointer and Eide scored on a drive after recovering her blocked 3-point shot, and the Jackrabbits led 49-40 with 2:30 left.
"Everything seemed to be going against us; Sunnarborg banked in that shot from the top of the dome and then they banked in a three," Williams said. "I credit our kids with their toughness to get through that."
Needing stops, the Coyotes behind guard Alexis Yackley turned up the heat, forcing a turnover, and then teaming up with Boss to switch on Young for another turnover.
Yackley converted the first turnover into a lay-up at the other end, pulling USD to within 49-45 with 1:05 remaining.
Boss' steal turned into a cold-blooded jumper from Annie Roche, and the DakotaDome crowd was rocking with a 49-49 tie game and 24 seconds left.
As the Jacks tried to set up for a game-winning shot, Yackley forced the ball to the floor with 14 seconds remaining, but the officials called a controversial held-ball, giving the Jacks a chance to win the game.
However, the Coyote defense held fast and forced Young too far under the basket to get off a good shot, and the two teams geared up for overtime.
"We went with a ball-screen there and it's been working pretty well for us this year," SDSU head coach Aaron Johnston said of the Jack possession. "I feel pretty good with the ball in Jill's hands there – she's won a lot of games for us late."
Once in overtime, it was all USD.
Hegge opened USD's extra scoring with a 3-pointer after SDSU drew first blood with a basket from Katie Lingle.
The agile forward then found a gap in the middle of the Jack defense and went to the rack, giving the 'Yotes a 54-51 lead.
It turned out to be enough as the Coyotes' defense continued to stymie and confuse the Jack possessions, but USD made five of seven free throws in the final 1:55 to finalize their statement to SDSU and the Summit League with the 59-53 final.
"Everytime we needed a stop, it gave us new wind, and we responded on our end of the floor" said USD's Boss, who blocked five SDSU shots. "We wanted this win and getting tired was not an option."
Hegge, a senior from Crofton, led all scorers with 28 points to go with five assists and continued to display her priceless value to the USD program that has now won eight games in a row.
"We needed her tonight and there she was," Boss said. "She's a big-time senior."
"Amber played great," Williams said. "We go through her and everybody knows it – she came up big."
Yackley had six assists and five steals while Boss had 11 rebounds and eight points.
Young was held to 10 points and was the only Jack to reach double figures.
Though not playing great basketball during their winning streak that has seen them rise to third place in the Summit standings, the Coyotes have found a way to win and improved to 18-6 and 9-5 in the conference.
"This bunch just finds a way to get a win," Williams said. "Our kids believe; they just will not wilt and we're going to believe until the final buzzer."
Only six Coyotes played in the game, but their energy remained until Young's final shot fell short and their fans were able to celebrate.
"We fed off them," Williams said of the DakotaDome crowd. "Our fans were absolutely amazing tonight."
"This maybe is the most fun," Hegge said of the win. "The crowd was amazing, and to do it in overtime just makes it memorable."
The Jacks used their patented 3-ball to build a 31-21 halftime lead.
Though they put up five airballs in the first 20 minutes, Jill Young, who swished twice, Paluch, Leah Dietel, Sunnarborg and Boever each found the bottom of the net from downtown as SDSU still were 6-13 from beyond the arc.
The Coyotes took a 7-2 lead early in the game when Hegge kicked out to Tempestt Wilson for a trey.
However, scoring was difficult for USD as they made just seven of their 26 1st-half shots. Hegge led the way with 11 points, but no other Coyote supported with more than one basket.
The 18-8 Jacks, who had a 9-game winning streak coming in, missed out on a chance to clinch at least a share of the Summit League title, but still lead the league with a 13-2 conference mark.