College Men's Basketball

Jackrabbits take momentum on the road

South Dakota State begins weekend with game in Kansas City on Thursday night


BROOKINGS — After a three-game homestand, the South Dakota State men will hit the road on Thursday to take on Kansas City.

The Jackrabbits went 2-1 in their three games at Frost Arena over the past two weeks and now sit alone atop the Summit League with an overall record of 14-11 and 7-3 in the Summit League. Two and a half games are between first place SDSU and eighth place Kansas City.
SDSU head coach Eric Henderson has talked about how the team that is playing the best basketball heading into March will have the best chance to win the Summit League Tournament and he thinks his team is close to being in that position.

“If you’re looking at time to start playing your best, not that we’re not always, but I saw some important signs [during this homestand]. Our connectivity, our celebration of others, our compete level, our ability to get stops when we needed and our ability to take care of the basketball. … I thought we made some huge strides in how we were playing and the purpose we were playing with and the togetherness. At the end of the day, that’s one game. Not that we haven’t shown signs of that, but we need to make sure we put multiple games together,” Henderson said.

SDSU may have had its best game of offense on Saturday in an 83-72 win over Oral Roberts. The Jacks shot 51.7% from the field and were 10-of-20 from three. Luke Appel led the way with a season-high 25 points. 

Appel seems to be the barometer of success for the Jacks in conference play as he is averaging 15.5 points per  game in conference victories and 7.6 points in Summit League losses. Henderson said Appel scoring is important because it makes the defense have to worry about a third scorer besides Zeke Mayo and William Kyle III.

“I think he’s pretty important. I think it’s important for us to get him involved. I think scoring he certainly creates a lot of energy when the ball is going in the basket. He plays with a lot of enthusiasm and spirit, which is great. So, I do think it’s really important just to have another scorer and the versatility and that balance and Luke is certainly capable of that,” Henderson said.

Henderson added that he has talked with Appel about being more aggressive, but it has to be within the offense, which he did a good job of doing on Saturday.

“I just loved on Saturday, and it’s not because he scored, but I felt like he was really aggressive. I thought he was under control for the most part and took good shots. … You just have to find the right times [to be aggressive]. It’s got to look a certain way. The ball needs to move and I think the ball moved as well as it has all year on Saturday and it didn’t get sticky. Then we found opportunistic times to score and I thought that’s what Luke did. We certainly talk to him about being aggressive and the importance of scoring, but it has to be in the right way,” Henderson said.

The Jackrabbit defense has improved over the last three games as well. In the first seven conference games SDSU was allowing opponents to attempt 33.5 3-pointers per game. Over the past three games teams have attempted 23 threes per game. In conference play opponents are shooting 43% from the field, which is the best in the Summit League.

Henderson said the defensive success begins with the play on the perimeter.

“I think we changed how we’re guarding and the strategy we put together,” Henderson said. “Sometimes it fits an opponent better than others, so that’s going to be everchanging. But I think we really put an emphasis [on defending the perimeter] and I think our guys have had great urgency on guys that can make multiple threes. 

“… I think some of the things we’ve done with guarding the ball screens and how we’re defending the post have also helped us and allowed us to defend the arc a little bit better.”

The Roos will come into Thursday’s game with a record of 11-15 overall and 5-6 in the Summit League. The Jacks beat the Roos 75-66 on Jan. 25. SDSU led 36-26 at halftime of that game but the Roos came back to take a 64-63 lead with just under six minutes left. SDSU then outscred Kansas City 12-2 the rest of the way and were able to get the win.

That has been a trend for the Jackrabbits this season. Every game it seems as though there are large momentum swings that are led by big runs for both teams. Basketball is a game of runs but with SDSU they have gone to the extreme. Henderson said his team is trying to correct that, but while doing so he wants to make sure his team remains confident when runs do happen during the game.

“You can never get too high and you can never get too low emotionally. I think that’s where it needs to start. It’s never as good as you think it is and it’s probably never as bad as you think it is either. So, I think that mental approach and having an understanding of that is how we’ve tried to approach it. … Why [have there been so many large runs in our game]? I’m not totally sure, but that’s the beauty of sports and competition. How to get better. We’ve talked a lot about it lately, so hopefully you see those stretches start to minimize,” Henderson said.

Thursday’s game is set to tip at 7 p.m. and you can watch the game on the Summit League Network. SDSU will stay on the road Saturday as the Jacks will play Omaha at 7 p.m. That game will be broadcasted on the Summit League Network as well.