SIOUX FALLS, S.D.-There were about five or six minutes on Monday night when North Dakota State looked the part of a Summit League Tournament giant killer. As for the other 35 or so? Not so much.
South Dakota State struck early, then put the hammer down in the last 10 minutes to take a 78-57 men's basketball victory at the Denny Sanford Premier Center. The semifinal victory puts the Jackrabbits in Tuesday night's title game in which the winner earns the league's automatic ticket to the NCAA tournament.
The Bison ended 15-17, the first losing season under fourth-year head coach Dave Richman. After seasons of 23, 20 and 19 victories, this season never did measure up. Consistency, for the most part, was non-existent.
Same with this tournament. The Bison were terrific in the first half of Sunday's quarterfinal game against Fort Wayne, but that will go down as the highlight.
"How would I describe this year? Frustrating from that standpoint," Richman said. "We saw what we were capable of last night. Plenty of excuses and plenty of things to go around why I don't think we were able to maintain that consistency, but we weren't able to do that. That's something going forward we need to get cleaned up."
On Sunday night, it was NDSU that got off to the hot start. The tables turned Monday night.
The Jacks bolted to a 23-6 lead in the first 10 minutes and extended that to as much as 36-12 with three minutes left before halftime. NDSU did score eight of the last 10 before the break, but SDSU was still up 38-20.
The Bison had trouble finding any offensive rhythm, going 1 from 9 from 3-point range and shooting 26 percent overall.
It was a similar start to two years ago when the Bison came into this game as the No. 5 seed, which they were this year. NDSU rallied from a 17-point deficit to beat top-seeded Fort Wayne and showed glimpses of doing the same thing against the Jacks.
A 19-3 run at the conclusion of the first half and the start of the second pulled the Bison to within 39-31. NDSU went to a small lineup during that stretch, putting 6-foot-6 guard-forward A.J. Jacobson at the center spot on defense. Richman said trying to find some offense was the main reason, and was aiming for better spacing and movement on the floor.
"Coach Richman did an excellent job switching things up," said SDSU center Mike Daum. "It's something we haven't seen. For us we knew we had to get it inside if we could, but we knew they would be quick on offense going downhill. They did a great job of switching up but our guys did a great job staying with the game plan."
SDSU regained its composure, however, hitting five straight shots to grab a 55-37 advantage with 13 minutes remaining. Six minutes later it was 70-45.
The Bison did a reasonable defensive job on the high-scoring Daum, who was 7 of 15 from the field and finished with 19 points. But NDSU had trouble containing freshman guard David Jenkins, who led all scorers with 24 points.
"Basketball is a game of momentum swings," Daum said. "Our guys did a great job of not losing our minds when they went on that run."
NDSU finished 19 of 55 from the field for 35 percent. One of the more potent mid-major 3-point shooting teams in the country, the Bison were just 5 of 24 from that range.
"Some of those things we talked about during the season, finding a consistent game," said Bison guard Tyson Ward, who led NDSU with 15 points. "There were spurts throughout the season where we showed promise. I feel like consistency played a part but I also feel sometimes the ball doesn't fall in your court."
NDSU (15-17): Jacobson 4-7 2-3 10, Eliason 0-2 0-0 0, P. Miller 4-14 5-6 14, Hunter 3-8 4-4 11, Ward 5-12 5-7 15, Samuelson 0-3 0-0 0, Quayle 0-2 0-0 0, Geu 2-5 0-0 4, Kreuser 1-2 0-0 3. Totals: 19-55 14-17 57.
SDSU (27-6): Tellinghuisen 1-6 3-4 5, Daum 7-15 3-3 19, Flatten 3-4 0-0 8, King 3-5 2-5 8, Jenkins 10-15 2-3 24, Key 3-6 0-0 6, Severyn 1-3 2-2 5, Theisen 0-3 0-0 0, Brown 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 29-60 12-19 78.
Halftime: SDSU 38, NDSU 20. 3-point goals: NDSU 4-23 (Miller 1-8, Ward 0-3, Samuelson 0-3, Geu 0-1, Kreuser 0-1); SDSU 8-25 (Flatten 2-3, Howell 1-1, Brown 0-1, Severyn 1-1, Theisen 0-3, Daum 2-5, Jenkins 2-6, King 0-1). Total fouls: NDSU 17, SDSU 15. Rebounds: NDSU 33 (Miller 5); SDSU 39 (Daum 11). Assists: NDSU 6 (Hunter 3); SDSU 12 (King 5). Turnovers: NDSU 12 (Ward 5): SDSU 8 (Jenkins, Tellinghuisen 2).