South Dakota State men hold off North Dakota State in Summit League thriller

Zeke Mayo's career day lifts Jackrabbits to rivalry win

SDSU guard Zeke Mayo is guarded closely by NDSU's Jacari White in the second half of a Summit League basketball game on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023 at Frost Arena in Brookings.
Matt Zimmer / Forum News Service

BROOKINGS — Eric Henderson has been on both sides of the South Dakota State-North Dakota State rivalry.

A former Bison assistant before taking over the Jackrabbits four years ago, Henderson admitted he doesn't sleep well the night before he coaches against his old team.

Who would? It's almost a guarantee at this point that when the two teams get together, whether it's in Brookings or Fargo, they're going to treat the fans to a thrilling, physical, down-to-the-wire slugfest, and that's exactly what happened again on Saturday.

The Jackrabbits overcame a slow start to defeat the Bison 90-85 behind a command performance from sophomore guard Zeke Mayo, who went for a career-high 41 points — the second-most ever scored at Frost Arena — as SDSU picked up their third-straight win in front of a crowd of 3,031 fans.

"It's a great rivalry," said Jackrabbit senior center Matt Dentlinger, who had 17 points. "I don't think since I've been here there's been a game that hasn't come down to the last minute. You know it's gonna be a physical game, a tough battle and that you've got to make all the extra effort plays. A lot of times that's what it comes down to, and you have to give a lot of credit to our crowd, too. They really show out for this game and give us a lot of energy."


Indeed, the crowd was a big factor in the Jacks winning this matinee, overwhelming the gym with their cheers and boos throughout. But the story was Mayo.

South Dakota State players huddle during a Summit League men's basketball game on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023 at Frost Arena in Brookings.
Matt Zimmer / Forum News Service

Playing all 40 minutes without a break, the 6-foot-3 guard went 14-of-25 from the floor, 6-of-9 from outside the arc and 7-of-8 at the line, while adding five assists and five rebounds. He had no turnovers, either, as SDSU had only two as a team for the whole game.

"I don't go into games thinking about (taking over) but I had it going in the first half, and in the second half, coach drew up a play for me to go get a bucket," Mayo said. "And once I get the green light, that's when I go."

When the Jacks found themselves down by 13 in the first half it was Mayo that brough them back. It was Mayo that drilled an off-balance step-back 3 at the first half buzzer in front of the Bison bench (featuring some jawing in their direction for good measure), and it was Mayo that kept filling it up even as the SDSU defense struggled to get stops.

Grant Nelson had 27 points and 15 boards for NDSU (9-15, 6-6 Summit), Jacari White had 18 points and Damari Wheeler-Thomas 13, but it wasn't enough.

"We shoot 60 percent (34-for-57) and we get beat," said Bison coach Dave Richman. "(Mayo) is talented. We let him get to spots and he was able to execute."

South Dakota State's Matt Dentlinger looks to pass as North Dakota State's Andrew Morgan defends during a Summit League basketball game on Saturday, Feb. 4 at Frost Arena in Brookings.
Matt Zimmer/Forum News Service

Mayo's final two points of the game came at the line, with 8.2 seconds left, and they gave SDSU an 88-85 lead.

On the ensuing play NDSU tried a long inbound pass across halfcourt, but the pass was wildly off target and intercepted by Mayo, who handed off to Matt Mims who then iced it with free throws.


Richman said NDSU anticipated the Jacks, up three, would try to foul to prevent a game-tying 3, hence their choice of inbounds play. They just failed to execute it, Richman said.

Zeke Mayo goes up for a shot in the first half of a Summit League basketball game on Feb. 4, 2023 at Frost Arena in Brookings.
Matt Zimmer / Forum News Service

Alex Arians played 35 minutes off the bench and had 15 points, while freshman William Kyle had 12 points, eight rebounds and three blocks. Mayo was outstanding, but he needed those contributions for it to be enough for the win.

"I threw it to the open guy if I didn't have a play for myself," Mayo said. "I try to be a pass-first guy but on nights like this shots were going in, and when I missed, the big fellas were getting rebounds."

SDSU improved to 9-4 in Summit League play with the win and 14-11 overall. They'll be back in Frost for another rivalry game on Saturday, Feb. 11, when they host USD, and Henderson will hope his team brings the same effort and intensity for the Coyotes as they did for the Bison.

"Our guys had some fight," Henderson said. "This is exciting — what else could you want, man? The battle, the competition — I'm too old to play anymore, I got to find it some other way. I love it."

Matt Zimmer is a Sioux Falls native and longtime sports writer. He graduated from Washington High School where he played football, legion baseball and developed his lifelong love of the Minnesota Twins and Vikings. After graduating from St. Cloud State University, he returned to Sioux Falls, began a long career in amateur baseball and started working as a sports freelancer. Zimmer was hired as a sport reporter at the Argus Leader in 2004, where he covered Sioux Falls high schools and colleges before moving to the South Dakota State University beat in 2014.
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