Bison second-half rally not enough to overcome South Dakota

FARGO — The first half was a dud. The second half was electric. The result, however, left North Dakota State unplugged on Saturday afternoon, Feb. 3, at Scheels Center at Sanford Health Athletic Complex.
The University of South Dakota stuck a 20-point halftime deficit on the Bison in a 20 minutes that was rather forgettable for the home team and the 3,722 fans. There was more life in the second half, but the result — a 76-72 USD win — left the Bison virtually out of the race for a top-two seed in the Summit League postseason men’s basketball tournament.
NDSU is 4-5 in the conference with four of the next five league games on the road.
The Bison will look back at two statistical problems: Turnovers and offensive rebounds. Like the 17 turnovers that resulted in several USD opportunities the other way. Like the offensive rebound by Coyote guard Tyler Peterson, who converted it into two free throws and a 70-65 lead with 1:09 remaining.
A.J. Jacobson’s trey cut that to 70-68 with 49 seconds left. Peterson responded with a 3-pointer of his own, draining it from the corner with the shot clock winding down with 20 seconds remaining.
Bison guard Paul Miller quickly came back with a field goal six seconds later and it was 73-70. But the Coyotes hit three of four free throws to keep it a two-possession game. The rally was stirring, but the loss was not.
“We can sit here and talk about our play in the second half,” said Bison head coach Dave Richman. “There were encouraging things but there are 40 minutes on the clock. We have to execute for 40. You can’t spot a team a 20-point lead and that’s what we did.”
NDSU normally turns out the lights for its player introduction, but when it was time to turn them on, the LED “game lights” remained off because of a computer glitch, according to NDSU officials. The teams played in a lighting atmosphere more akin to a church gymnasium.
“I coached in the dome for two years,” said USD head coach Craig Smith, referring to USD’s old home court in the DakotaDome that had similar lighting. “I thought this was an advantage for us.”
Joking aside, he was right. The Coyotes were 7 of 12 from 3-point range in the first 20 minutes.
On the other side, almost everything went wrong. NDSU was 1 of 12 from 3-point range, and probably more disturbing, committed 12 turnovers with the Coyotes being credited for 10 steals.
The Coyotes led 44-24 at halftime.
“That first half was completely on me, what did I have, five turnovers?” said Miller, a senior taking the brunt of the blame. “Absolutely terrible. It doesn’t matter how many shots I hit in the second half, that loss was on me.”
The lights were reset at the break and the Bison came out with a brighter game, cutting the halftime deficit in half in the first nine minutes. Smith lauded Miller for his shot-making, especially down the stretch.
“They flipped the script,” Smith said. “Fortunately for us it was a 40-minute game and not 41.”
Miller finished with 26 points. Forward Deng Geu came off the bench for 12 points and backup guard Tyson Ward had a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds. Still, for the Bison, count it as another learning opportunity, Richman said, in an up-and-down season.
“They beat us by 20 in the first half, we beat them by almost 20 in the second half,” Miller said. “If we bring it all 40 minutes, we’re in my opinion the scariest team in the Summit League and we need to start to show that.”