North Dakota State nips Coyotes on last-second shot, controversial block in Summit tourney
The Bison advance to face the SDSU Jackrabbits in semifinals.
SIOUX FALLS — Everything was lining up perfectly for the South Dakota Coyotes.
After engaging in a wire-to-wire brawl with North Dakota State, their "other" longtime rival, USD appeared for most of Sunday night's Summit League tournament quarterfinal to be closing in on a win over the Bison that would send them into the semifinals against South Dakota State, with a very real shot to upset the reigning Summit League champions. Coyote fans who have so desperately waited to have their own men's basketball party in Sioux Falls were bringing the noise, hanging on every play. The Premier Center crowd of 5,846 sensed a signature win was imminent.
Then, suddenly, it all went wrong.
The Coyotes took a 1-point lead with 56 seconds to play when Kruz Perrott-Hunt hit one of two free throws (his miss was USD's only one at the line all game), and when Jacari White's jumper at the other end was no good and the Yotes grabbed the rebound, victory was at hand.
But something happened. Perrott-Hunt was supposed to bring the ball up the floor. When the defense converged on him he picked up his dribble. Then forced a bad pass, and turned the ball over. NDSU, with new life, went to Tajavis Miller, a 6-4 freshman from Lubbock, Texas. His floater in the lane with 15 seconds left proved to be the winning shot in a 70-68 victory for the Bison.
But Miller's shot wasn't where it ended. Trailing 69-68 after that basket, the Coyotes drew up a play — a perfect play — on their ensuing possession. A.J. Plitzuweit brought the ball up and handed off to Perrott-Hunt, giving Damani Hayes a chance to sneak into the lane. There he is — he's wide open, and Perrott-Hunt delivers him the ball. Hayes rises for the game-winning dunk and is met by Miller, the freshman.
Miller definitely got ball. He also got some body. No foul was called, though, and NDSU rebounded.
The Coyotes and their fans were livid. On the other end, NDSU's Boden Skunberg made one of two free throws, making it a 2-point game with four seconds left. USD had a timeout to burn but coach Eric Peterson had already drawn up their full-court play. It ended in a half-court heave by Plitzuweit that hit high off the glass and bounced away at the horn.
It was a thrilling win for NDSU. Heartbreaking for USD. Their season ends at 12-19. The Bison advance to take on the Jacks Monday night at 8:30.
"I'm not sure if it was a foul or not," said USD's Tasos Kamateros, who had 11 points and 12 rebounds in the game. "I'm just disappointed it came down to that."
Said Peterson: "I'm not sure I can comment on that last play. But if you talk to the player, Damani, he's one of the toughest kids, and he never complains about anything. And so when you ask him what he felt, and maybe he feels it's a foul, maybe you take his word for it, right? But it doesn't just go to that play. Like I said, we gave up a right hand drive to Miller, which is our job, to take away his right hand. He went right at the rim and made a basket. And for a younger player at that age to make that play - unbelievable."
Grant Nelson had 23 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Bison (15-16). Skunberg had 17 and Miller 12. Plitzuweit led USD with 17 in a gutty effort. Perrott-Hunt had 16.
It was a crushing loss to end what was an eventful debut season for Peterson. He missed a month after sustaining injuries in a fall in his home. And his team struggled to find consistency under the new staff. At times they looked as good as any team in the Summit League. At other times they looked lost. But just when it looked like they were going to limp into the postseason as a non-factor, they closed the regular season strong. Had they made one more play on Sunday night, who knows what would've happened if they'd got a third shot at an SDSU team that beat them twice this year?
"It was a good season overall," Kamateros said. "And it was just, down to one play, that's tough. But I love this team. I love everybody - the coaching staff, the players, everybody. So it's a sick feeling right now. But eventually I'm going to be thinking back to it and be like, you know, that's a team I love."
The Coyots have question marks heading into next season, but Peterson was already looking forward to it, especially since he feels shortchanged by the time he missed this year. Sunday night was a taste of the future they're trying to establish.
"These games are fun," Peterson said. "What a fun environment. We had a lot of fans here, it was loud in there. I tell everybody I've been to the Mountain West tournament and the PAC-12 and this is just as good as any of those tournaments. And that's why I'm excited to be the coach here and get back and win some games here."