Welcome to the league of buzzer beaters. Omaha and South Dakota State -- the league’s two best teams -- offered up some dramatic theatrics last week.
First it was Omaha’s Mitch Hahn who dropped a dagger on South Dakota State on Valentine’s Day. The Mavericks’ captain capped Omaha’s 85-84 win with a fadeaway jumper on the right baseline that dropped through as the buzzer sounded.
The postgame assessment from Hahn’s teammate, Zach Jackson, was almost as good as the shot itself.
“Thank you, God, for letting me play with Mitch Hahn,” Jackson told the Omaha World-Herald. “He just comes through big for us.”
Then, not to be outdone, South Dakota State ventured to Fargo, where North Dakota State had won five games in a row at the Scheels Center. The Bison led the entire game -- and even by as many as 17 early in the second half. But South Dakota State’s David Jenkins Jr. weaved his way up the middle of the court and buried a shot near midcourt to send the Jackrabbits to a 78-77 victory, which ignited a celebration across from North Dakota State’s bench.
Now it’s time to bottle up the exciting finishes and take them to Sioux Falls for the league tournament in a few weeks.
On tap this week
Wednesday, Feb. 20
Western Illinois at Omaha
Denver at South Dakota
Thursday, Feb. 21
Purdue Fort Wayne at South Dakota State
Saturday, Feb. 23
Denver at North Dakota
South Dakota at South Dakota State
Omaha at North Dakota State
Oral Roberts at Western Illinois
Game of the week: Omaha at North Dakota State - 4 p.m. Saturday - ESPN3
At this point, the top two spots in the Summit League are all but sewn up. It’ll just depend on how Omaha and South Dakota State sort out the top two seeds.
But North Dakota State is within striking distance of Purdue Fort Wayne with two weeks left in the regular season. The Bison lost at home to Purdue Fort Wayne, 90-87, on Dec. 30, so North Dakota State is already behind in the tiebreaker. The Bison will need to fend off Omaha Saturday to have a shot of snagging the No. 3 seed from Purdue Fort Wayne.
Plus, it’ll be North Dakota State’s first game since South Dakota State’s David Jenkins Jr. ripped the hearts out of the Fargo faithful.
1. South Dakota State (21-7, 11-2): Hard to have a more emotional swing than the Jackrabbits had last week. But South Dakota State navigated an Omaha-Fargo trip with a win and a loss, and now the Jackrabbits have three home games to close out the regular season. It could be tough for Omaha to overthrow the Jackrabbits for the top seed, considering South Dakota State’s remaining three games: Purdue Fort Wayne, South Dakota and Western Illinois. Oh, and Mike Daum needs 57 points to crack the 3,000-point barrier.
2. Omaha (16-9, 10-2): At this point last season, the Mavericks were the league’s punching bag. A year later, Omaha is contending for a conference championship. Of course, good things happen to those who don’t turn the ball over -- the Mavericks rank seventh nationally with only 252 turnovers in 25 games.
3. Purdue Fort Wayne (17-11, 9-4): The Mastodons are still plagued by lesser shooting performances away from eastern Indiana. For instance, in a loss at Omaha over the weekend, the Mastodons limited Omaha to 74 points, but Purdue Fort Wayne made only 9 of 33 attempts from beyond the 3-point arc.
4. North Dakota State (14-13, 8-5): The Bison are hitting a confident stride late in the season, never mind that David Jenkins Jr. is now public enemy No. 1 in Fargo. Nonetheless, North Dakota State is a confident team and gaining more as it goes along. Oh, and Vinnie Shahid has been fantastic with 21.2 points per game his last six times out.
5. Oral Roberts (10-19, 6-8): Just when the Golden Eagles appeared to be making a run, they got swept in a tour of North Dakota. However, the silver lining throughout conference play has been Kevin Obanor. The freshman forward might be the league’s next best thing. In 14 confernece games, Obanor is averaging 18.5 points and 8.3 rebounds per game.
6. South Dakota (10-15, 4-8): The good news: the Coyotes don’t leave the state of South Dakota now through the conference tournament. The bad news: South Dakota can likely do no better than sixth in the league standings before the conference convenes for tournament time in Sioux Falls.
7. North Dakota (10-16, 4-9): The Fighting Hawks buried 13 of 26 3-pointers against Oral Roberts Saturday, and North Dakota will soon get back Conner Avants back from a leg injury. That’s a sliver of good news as the season winds down.
8. Western Illinois (8-17, 3-9): Four straight losses for the Leathernecks have left them fighting for their lives, just to make the league tournament. The season could come down to Feb. 28 at Denver. The winner might be the team to get the final ticket to Sioux Falls … and play South Dakota State (or Omaha) in the first round.
9. Denver (7-19, 2-10): The Pioneers have been getting hammered in five straight losses. **See above for importance of Feb. 28 game.