By Jeremy Hoeck
VERMILLION — A previously efficient, high-rolling offense hit a significant speed bump on Saturday night.
Facing stiff defensive pressure all night, especially in the face of its guards, the University of South Dakota men’s basketball team dropped its sixth straight game, 64-51, to Fort Wayne in the season finale at the DakotaDome.
Keyed by 38 percent shooting and just 5-of-17 on three-pointers, the Coyotes also reached the program’s longest losing streak in 25 years — the year before head coach Dave Boots assumed command.
“When you’re not hitting shots like that, it’s a little deflating,” said reserve Jordan Boots, who was one of two seniors honored prior to the game. “It takes the energy out of you.
“Makes you work harder on defense to keep it close, and that’s maybe taking a little bit of energy away from you.”
The Coyotes (8-18, 4-10) narrowly avoided a season low for points scored and needed a late flurry to avoid their worst shooting performance, but it was far from any consolation.
Starting guards Juevol Myles and Brandon Bos were held to 15 combined points on 4-of-16 shooting, after having combined for 45 points in a one-point loss to Oakland two days previous.
“They really guarded our perimeter; did a great job on Juevol and Brandon,” coach Boots said. “They both had come off such good games on Thursday and couldn’t get anything going tonight.”
Not much went right for the Coyotes from the opening tip, as uncharacteristic cold shooting appeared at a bad time.
Making matters worse — and there were plenty in a 30 percent (7-of-23) effort — was that Fort Wayne closed a sluggish first half on a 15-2 run.
USD began the second half on a 10-2 spurt, but again, the ball not finding the bottom of the net on a consistent basis was the ultimate frustration.
“The funny thing is, we were getting stops in the first half, and that kept us in the game,” Myles said. “But after a while, not scoring the basketball puts pressure on your defense, and it wears you out.”
Though they trailed by double digits for the entire second half, the Coyotes got as close as 42-31 on a Trevor Gruis basket with 11:19 to play.
Fort Wayne (12-16, 5-9), however, built the margin back to out to 21 — the largest — with 4:42 left. The biggest thorn in USD’s side was Mastodons’ guard Frank Gaines, who was 9-of-13 from the floor for 22 points.
In the end, the Coyotes finished 20 points under their season average in league play. Since scoring 90 points in a loss to Omaha three and a half weeks ago, USD has had games of 54, 46, 65, 75 and 51 points.
“It’s hard on kids, hard on coaches, and hard on our fans,” coach Boots said. “On that offensive end, we have to score more. We can’t keep being in the 50s and think we’re going to beat anybody.”
The loss also dropped USD to seventh place in the league standings at 4-10. Kansas City, which is also 4-10 in league play, holds the tiebreaker over the Coyotes by virtue of a season sweep.
Eventually seedings will matter, come tournament time — Myles even admitted later that the players knew what was at stake — but for now, it’s the nearer future that matters.
USD steps out of Summit League action next Sunday for a trip out to Montana State for the ESPN BracketBuster, and then comes road games at IUPUI and Western Illinois.
“In this game I saw some things in the team that I really like, but we just have to keep moving forward,” Myles said.
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