Western Illinois coach: home crowd the difference
By DIRK LAMMERS
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) Western Illinois coach Jim Molinari says his team couldn't have defended South Dakota State any better, but the Leathernecks couldn't do anything about the crowd.
Western Illinois lost the Summit League tournament championship game to the Jackrabbits 52-50 in overtime Tuesday night in what was essentially a road game for the Leathernecks.
Sioux Falls is a neutral site for the tournament, but it's 50 miles from SDSU's campus in Brookings. More than 6,500 SDSU fans packed the city's arena to capacity, and that noise and craziness gave the Jackrabbits a lift when they were down.
"I knew, because of the crowd, they would never let the game get away from them, and they didn't," Molinari said. "And I think we did everything we could. We just couldn't score at the end there.
"I think you have to be 10 points better if you're going to win here, and we weren't 10 points better tonight."
The Jackrabbits (27-7) will make their first NCAA appearance as Division I members.
Western Illinois (18-14) lost in its first Summit final since 1997 and was denied its first NCAA berth.
After South Dakota State's Griffan Callahan hit a 3-pointer with 1:30 left in overtime, Western Illinois turned it over when Ceola Clark lost control of the ball and committed a shot-clock violation.
The same thing happened to SDSU on the other end, with Nate Wolters unable to get his shot from the baseline off before the clock ran out.
Tommie Tyler had a chance for a final shot after the Leathernecks got the ball back with 10 seconds left, but his short shot did not fall. Terell Parks rebounded but had the ball stripped by SDSU's Brayden Carlson, who held it a moment before the buzzer sounded and SDSU's students rushed the court.
Tyler, a senior, said the loss was "heartbreaking" and he feels like he let his teammates down.
"But they're a great team. They have a bright future ahead of them," he said. "I'm happy I played with these guys."
Western Illinois, picked to finish ninth in the preseason, came to Sioux Falls as the No. 4 seed and upset No. 1 Oral Roberts in the semifinals.
The Leathernecks were the lowest seed since 2006 to make it this far. Before this year, the Leathernecks hadn't won a Summit tournament game since 1999.
Clark said he hopes that making it to the championship game will be a stepping stone for the Western Illinois squad.
"I think we showed a lot of people that we're one of the best defensive teams out there," he said. "Hopefully we can start gaining some respect."
Wolters, who led the Jackrabbits with 14 points, was just 5 of 22 from the floor.
Terell Parks led Western Illinois with 19 points.
Each team endured long rough patches offensively. South Dakota State's slump bridged the first and second halves and allowed the Leathernecks to build a 12-point lead. Western Illinois struggled late and let the Jackrabbits come back to force overtime.
The Jackrabbits won despite shooting 35 percent, while Western Illinois shot 40 percent.
There were nine lead changes and four ties early before the Leathernecks held the Jackrabbits scoreless for 6 1-2 minutes and rolled off 10 straight points to go up 33-24 after Tyler's length-of-the-court drive and dunk early in the second half.
Wolters ended SDSU's 10:06 stretch without a field goal when he banked in a runner, and he scored again a few minutes later to start a 9-2 spurt that pulled the Jackrabbits to 44-42 with 3 1/2 minutes left.
The Leathernecks made just one field goal in the last 7:40 of regulation, giving the Jackrabbits ample opportunity to come back.
The Jackrabbits twice had chances to tie or take the lead before finally pulling even. Wolters was off the mark with a 3-point attempt and badly missed when he tried to take Jack Houpt to the hoop before Callahan's two free throws made it 44-all with 15.3 seconds left.
The Leathernecks tried to win it on a last shot. Clark let the clock run down under 5 seconds before he ducked under Wolters at the left wing and put up a shot that glanced off the rim just ahead of the buzzer.
"We feel like we'll be right back at the top of the league next year," Molinari said.
Updated March 7, 2012