By Jeremy Hoeck
One simple comment in the final timeout huddle proved to be not only the spark the home team needed, but proof that its confidence continues to grow.
Put another way: Monday night’s 71-67 victory over Utah Valley in Vermillion might have been one the Coyotes would have lost a year ago.
They made the plays down the stretch, however, to pick up their third straight win.
“The last play, coach was like, ‘If they happen to make it, get it in to this person,’” junior reserve Tyler Larson said. “Then he was like, ‘Hold on, never mind, we’re going to stop them.’
“It shows a new defensive confidence to this year’s team.”
That optimism carried over to the offensive side as well, as the Coyotes (3-3) were able to mount a 14-3 run over the final 4:12 to erase a 7-point deficit.
USD took the lead for good on a put-back layup by reserve Eric Robertson with 1:34 left.
Junior Brandon Bos hit four free throws over the next 91 seconds to secure the win.
“We were always in there,” said Bos, who finished with a team-high 15 points. “We never felt at any point like we were going to lose the game. We just had to keep pushing.”
In doing so against another former Great West Conference member, the Coyotes were also able to overcome a 3-of-13 effort on three-pointers and 12 missed free throws.
A big part of doing so required confidence, according to interim head coach Joey James.
“They believe that they can win,” he said. “Now they’re starting to see that. Now the wins start coming, and that’s good.
“If we were oh and five, they might be looking at themselves in the mirror, thinking, ‘What are we doing.’”
Utah Valley (2-5), now a member of the Western Athletic Conference, got a combined 42 points and 23 rebounds from its frontcourt — keyed by 16 points and 13 rebounds from Ben Aird.
It wasn’t enough, though, to maintain a 64-57 lead with 4:28 remaining.
“We’re making plays at the end of the game, which is what we need,” Bos said. “We’re maybe using last year as a little motivation to get us going, but we’re able to make plays at the end.”
Thanks to some help from its bench.
USD’s reserves out-scored Utah Valley’s 28-4, keyed by 12 from Larson and seven from Karim Rowson.
“In practice, there are times where that second group, and I don’t like to call them second group because most of those kids could probably start, they tend to beat our first group,” James said.
“That’s why we always talk about the team and the chemistry and the togetherness.”
In a game that was rather even (both teams shot 48 percent) and physical (Utah Valley out-rebounded USD 32-31), the Coyotes were able to overcome some early struggles.
The Wolverines hit some three-pointers early to take a 17-7 lead under seven minutes in.
The Coyotes, however, closed the frame on a 5-0 run — including a Trey Norris drive just ahead of the horn — to get to 35-35 by halftime.
From there, USD battled tough against a physical squad, Bos said.
“It was tough to rebound against a team like that,” he said. “But our bigs did a great job down the stretch getting stops. We were able to rebound out of that, and ultimately that’s how we did that 14-3 run.”
The Coyotes return to the road Thursday for a game at Air Force, and will then travel to Rapid City for Saturday’s matchup with Wyoming.
You can follow Jeremy Hoeck on Twitter at twitter.com/jhoeck. Discuss this story at www.yankton.net.
S. DAKOTA 71, UTAH VALLEY ST. 67
UTAH VALLEY ST. (2-5)
Bruneel 3-7 1-2 8, Nelson 7-12 1-2 16, Aird 7-11 4-4 18, Enos 2-7 0-0 6, Hunsaker 6-11 0-0 15, Garrity 1-6 0-0 2, Evans 0-1 0-0 0, Ross 0-0 0-0 0, Robison 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 27-56 6-8 67.
S. DAKOTA (3-3)
Flack 4-7 2-5 10, Gruis 3-7 2-4 8, Norris 3-10 0-0 6, Bos 4-9 6-6 15, Thoseby 1-4 2-2 4, Kasperbauer 1-2 0-0 2, Rowson 2-2 3-7 7, Pomlee 1-2 0-0 3, Robertson 2-3 0-0 4, Larson 5-8 1-4 12. Totals 26-54 16-28 71.
Halftime—Tied 35-35. 3-Point Goals—Utah Valley St. 7-17 (Hunsaker 3-7, Enos 2-4, Nelson 1-2, Bruneel 1-2, Garrity 0-1, Evans 0-1), S. Dakota 3-13 (Bos 1-2, Pomlee 1-2, Larson 1-4, Flack 0-1, Norris 0-1, Thoseby 0-3). Fouled Out—Bruneel. Rebounds—Utah Valley St. 32 (Nelson 13), S. Dakota 31 (Larson 5). Assists—Utah Valley St. 18 (Hunsaker 6), S. Dakota 13 (Norris 7). Total Fouls—Utah Valley St. 23, S. Dakota 15. A—1,335.