SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — In a season of twists for South Dakota State, the least surprising thing happened at the end of a thrilling Summit League championship game.
Mike Daum was the best player on the court.
The sophomore had nine points in the final 3:34 to lift the Jacks to their second straight NCAA Tournament appearance. This included a deep three to give SDSU a 73-72 lead that it would never relinquish in a 79-77 win over Omaha.
“Big time players step up in big time places, and Mike is a phenomenal player,” said junior forward Reed Tellinghuisen after the game. “We’re just so happy he’s not on the other team.”
Daum was big time the entire game. His 37 points (14-24 FG) were the second most in a Summit Tournament final. In sealing the win, he punctuated a remarkable turn around for SDSU.
The scenes Monday night in Sioux Falls - ecstatic blue and yellow partying at midcourt, nets being cut down - were far away in mid January.
T.J. Otzelberger’s debut season got off to an underwhelming start. The Jacks limped to a 1-5 Summit record, leaving the first year coach searching for answers on the defensive end.
But two months later, SDSU has its fourth Summit Tournament championship.
“The expectation of this program is at a high level and we embrace that,” Otzelberger said. “At the same time, things didn’t come easy for us, and I knew these guys were looking at me, and I knew it was important I didn’t have an off day.”
In the end, SDSU avoided off days as a team when it mattered most.
They overcame a 16-point first half deficit to get past rival South Dakota in an emotional semifinal. And then they battled back-and-forth with a relentless Omaha team in an equally thrilling final.
The Mavericks - who were seeking their first NCAA bid in just their second year of eligibility - did not wilt in a hostile Denny Sanford PREMIER Center. They started the second half on a 9-0 run, turning a six-point half time deficit into a three-point lead in less than a minute.
But Omaha would have no answer for Daum’s final flurry.
“I’m disappointed we didn’t win the game, but I’m in no way disappointed with the team and our effort,” Omaha coach Darrin Hansen said. “We had a great three day run.”
Barring a trip to a lower-tier tournament, the loss closes the book on great careers for Mavericks’ guards Marcus Tyus (17 points) and Tra-Deon Hollins (18 points, 4 steals). Though both missed three pointers in the final 20 seconds that would’ve given Omaha the lead, they were instrumental in lifting the program to a stage it had never seen.
For SDSU and Daum, they now move on to the biggest stage of them all.
“He’s a heck of a player, he can do everything,” Omaha forward Tre’Shawn Thurman said. “He’s just talented, and they run a lot of sets for him so you need to be on your toes the whole game, you have to communicate, you have to know what’s coming.”
The Bracket Matrix currently has the Jacks pegged as a No. 15 seed, but no matter where they go or who they play, it’s a safe bet that Daum - the nation’s second-leading scorer - will get a national introduction.
- In another utter non-surprise, Daum was named the tournament MVP. He was joined on the first team by Tellinghuisen, Hollins, Thurman and South Dakota’s Matt Mooney.
- SDSU finishes the year on a six-game winning streak, and has won nine of its last 11 games.
- Omaha reached its first Summit final in just its second league tournament appearance.
- Frantically up-tempo Omaha played in just one game all season that saw fewer than 70 possessions. That was Tuesday’s final, which featured 69 possessions.