VERMILLION, S.D. -- The USD men were treading water against Purdue Fort Wayne, the top team in the Summit League.
A 17-0 run by the Mastodons gave them a 10-point lead midway through the first half, an advantage that the Coyotes couldn’t seem to cut into for about eight minutes because of some lack of communication on defense.
The Coyotes got a spark right before halftime. Cody Kelley got a steal and a layup and then forced another Dons turnover. Triston Simpson hit a three-pointer and USD was all of a sudden down five points going into the half.
The ‘Magnificent Seven,’ as USD coach Todd Lee called them because USD lost Dan Jech to an injury in the game, giving USD only seven healthy players, made some crucial halftime adjustments. Basically, the team cleaned up its communication issues on defense.
The Coyotes held Purdue Fort Wayne to only 36.7 percent (11-of-30 overall, 4-of-16 from three) in the second half and got some transition baskets and a week after losing to South Dakota State on its home court by 18, USD handed the Mastodons its first Summit League loss with an 87-73 victory at the Sanford Coyote Sports Complex on Sunday.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the guys. When Dan goes down, we have seven players. I told the guys the Magnificent Seven, that’s what we played with,” Lee said. “To play a team that is 4-0 with their explosive lineup and how they shoot the three, our guys did a great job. It was great to get it down from 10 to five points at halftime and then we started the second half well.
“We defended well in the second half. We had two guys play 40 minutes and (Tyler Peterson) played 37 minutes. I couldn’t be more proud of the guys.”
The Dons (12-8, 4-1) came into the game at the top of the Summit League because of their explosive offense. Purdue Fort Waye is shooting 49.4 percent from the field this season and has hit 209 three-pointers. The Dons are averaging 84.8 points per game.
Purdue Fort Wayne shot 57.7 percent (15-of-26) in the first half. USD (8-9, 2-2) not only held the Dons to 36.7 percent in the second half to take control of the contest, but the Coyotes also had eight steals in the second half.
USD was the first team in Summit League action to hold Fort Wayne to under 80 points and were the first team since Dec. 15 to hold the Dons under 75 points.
Lee said his team followed the scouting report better in the second half.
“We made mistakes offensively but defensively, we made three to four scouting report errors. We left guys open and they got in transition,” Lee said. “I told them at halftime that we can’t afford to make mistakes like that and you are shooting yourself in the foot. We locked down better in the second half. We paid attention to detail better and we didn’t give up as many points in transition.”
USD junior guard Tyler Peterson put the defensive miscues on himself.
“I think it was on us, just miscommunication. I take full responsibility and it’s my role as the defensive coordinator. I was messing that up,” Peterson said. “Just had to regroup. Once we got focused on that and knew what we were doing, we held them to 36 percent. … Limit them as much as we can. Limit them in takes and play sound defense.”
USD held John Konchar, who was averaging 19.9 points per game, to 13 points on 4-of-11 shooting. The Dons were only 9-of-28 from behind the arc.
The improved defensive play in the second half led to more offense for USD as the Coyotes got more transition baskets. USD shot 63 percent in the second (17-of-27) with no three-pointers. That led to 50 points and that kept the Mastodons out of transition.
“I think it’s a lot easier to score when you are in transition and the reason why I thought we were better defensively is because they were taking the ball out of the net,” Lee said. “We got some steals and did a good job on Konchar and that’s the best guard in the league. Turning them over and defense leading to offense. That’s what happened.”
USD was down 63-57 with 11:22 left when the Coyotes went on a 12-0 run to go up 69-63.
“Our defense was our best offense,” said USD sophomore guard Stanley Umude, who scored a game-high 26 points. “We got stops and got out in transition and got the confidence going.”
Fort Wayne cut USD’s lead to two points (73-71) with 4:21 left but the Coyotes got the ball in Triston Simpson’s hands. He scored 10 straight points in the final 3:17 to ice the game for USD.
After Umude’s 26 points, which were two off tying a career high, Simpson had 19 points and was 10-of-10 from the free throw line. Peterson had a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds and Matt Johns and Brandon Armstrong each had 10 points.
“It’s a good confidence builder for us,” Umude said. “We have to keep building off this. It’s probably our biggest game of the year.”