SIOUX FALLS | The latest chapter in the South Dakota-South Dakota State sports rivalry turned into Heartbreak Hotel for the Coyotes here Monday.
South Dakota State snatched victory from the throws of defeat, rallying for a 74-71 win over the Coyotes in a Summit League men's basketball tournament semifinal at Denny Sanford Premier Center.
What made the loss even harder for the Coyotes to stomach is the fact that – besides the first bucket of the game – they led for all but 1.5 seconds.
Michael Orris became the unlikeliest of heroes, nailing an 18-footer with 1.5 seconds remaining. SDSU tacked on two more free throws before South Dakota's Tyler Hagedorn had a half-court heave at the buzzer bounce off the rim.
Fourth-seeded SDSU (17-16) advanced to its second straight Summit title game and will play Omaha at 8 o'clock here Tuesday night.
A raucous crowd of 11,235, divided nearly equally between Red and White and Blue and Yellow, was treated to a magnificent contest. The longtime rivals were playing in the postseason for the first time since the North Central Conference tournament in 2004 when both were still competing in NCAA Division II.
Orris, averaging just over eight points per game, matched his career high with 20 points and came through with probably the biggest shot of his collegiate career after the Coyotes foiled SDSU's initial plans.
Matt Mooney, who poured in a game-high 30 points, hit a 3-pointer from the corner with 32 seconds left, snapping a 68-68 tie. Mike Daum, the Summit League player of the year, converted two free throws to bring SDSU within 71-70.
South Dakota true freshman Matt Peterson was fouled with 12.4 ticks left but missed the free throw, setting up the dramatic shot by Orris.
“We just kind of took what they gave us and Michael obviously stepped up in a huge way,” Daum said. “They do a good job of packing it in and forcing other guys to step up and that's exactly what guys like Michael did tonight.”
Orris, for his part, admitted that his game-winning shot wasn't what was designed.
“The play broke down, it wasn't what we drew up but the ball was in my hand and I knew I had to make a play,” Orris said. “So I saw my opportunity and made it.”
Despite 15 points by Orris, South Dakota had a 44-33 halftime lead after bolting to a 22-6 advantage in the first nine minutes.
Chris Howell scored all 11 of his points in the second half to fuel the Jackrabbit comeback. Mooney hit a 3-pointer with 2:23 left, giving USD a 68-65 lead, but Howell scored in the paint on the next possession and added a free throw with 1:33 remaining that tied the game at 68-68.
Mooney matched his career high, making 12 of 24 shots and 3 of 8 3-pointers. Trey Dickerson added 10 points, all in the first half, while senior Tyler Flack had nine points and six rebounds.
“One thing we talked about is we have to own the paint and own the free throw line,” USD Coach Craig Smith said. “They shoot twice as many free throws as we did. We did a good job with our game plan and you have to give them credit. Daum is the guy we were trying to take away and Tyler did a great job on him.
“I told our radio guy that a huge key tonight would be Orris. He had 15 at halftime and you have to give that kid credit. We were sagging off him and Daum gets deep but Hurst was on him and the kid rises up and makes the shot.”
South Dakota (22-11), the tournament's top seed and regular season Summit League champion after being picked to finish last by most preseason polls, isn't finished with its season. The Coyotes still have an NIT berth awaiting.
South Dakota State made 22 of 28 free throws. Daum, second in the nation in scoring with a 25-point average, finished with 18. Reed Tellinghuisen, a former East Sac County prep standout, added 16 points.
“This program is moving in the right direction,” said Mooney, one of four sophomore starters for the Coyotes. “I promise you this, we will be back next year. If a loss like this doesn't inspire you to work your tail off I don't know what will.”