WILLISTON - For all of a half, Williston State looked like a team worthy of an NJCAA tournament bid.
It was that initial half, though, that kept the Tetons on the outside looking in once again.
Fourth-ranked Iowa Western jumped out to a mammoth lead before holding off WSC 88-79 in the District 11 game Thursday at The Well, punching its ticket to the national tournament.
WSC (25-9), the Region XIII champion, lost its third national-qualifying game in four years.
Behind eight early 3-pointers, the uber-athletic Reivers (33-2) jumped out to a 20-point lead before the Tetons whittled it down to five in the second half. From there the Iowa school - which made the 14-hour jaunt - grew another double-digit lead and held on.
"We dug ourself too big a hole," WSC coach Eric Peterson said. "We gave up too many points. Our contests in the first half were absolutely awful. When you're in a hole like that it's tough to get out of it."
Sophomore guard Jordan Jackson did about everything he could to get the Tetons in the game.
The 6-foot speedster pumped in a career-high 39 points and shouldered the load when the all-American guard Marquel Curtis was held in check.
He had 21 by halftime when the Tetons trailed 53-38.
"Their size and athleticism was tough, and we weren't communicating in transition," Jackson said. "But it was a great season overall. The better team just won tonight."
Trailing by 14 to start the second half, a technical foul issued to Devin Brooks (18 points) put Jackson - who was already at the line - in a position to convert on four consecutive free throws to cut it to 10.
When the gap closed, Curtis came alive.
The physical 6-foot-4 guard spearheaded a 14-4 run to help his team get within five and finished his final junior college game with 26 points.
Iowa Western forward Tavian Pomlee (18 points, 8 rebounds) was cognizant of Curtis and knew his first-half drought wouldn't last.
"We knew he was a great ball player and fundamentally sound and knew he would get his points," Pomlee said. "This is a tough place to play. (WSC) is a good team, so we just had to get back to the basics."
Iowa Western, which had five players reach double figures, had an answer for every late Teton run. The Reivers went on an 8-2 run in the final three minutes after WSC made it a 78-72 game.
Miguel Sansavour pulled down 14 rebounds and came up with four blocks for the Tetons, but had little assistance in the paint against the Reviers' trees. Iowa Western won the rebounding advantage 48-38.
"It was a good season," said Peterson, WSC's first-year coach. "Without (Jackson) this wouldn't have even been a game.