South Dakota State prolongs Gophers’ slump
MINNEAPOLIS — South Dakota State didn’t make much of a fuss after winning at Minnesota for the first time in 18 meetings between the teams.
The Gophers didn’t put up much of a fight.
Jake Bittle scored a career-high 25 points for the Jackrabbits, who dominated from start to finish on both ends of the floor for an 84-70 victory Tuesday that handed the Gophers their second loss in four days at home to a border-state team from the mid-major Summit League.
"We’re not going to blow it up. I think obviously it’s a good win for us," said South Dakota State coach Scott Nagy, who was 0-9 against Minnesota on the road until this victory he acknowledged would help regional recruiting. There wasn’t any gloating from the Jackrabbits, though, probably because this wasn’t an upset — despite the difference in resources for the programs and their respective conferences.
"You have to give them credit. They are the better team right now," Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said.
Deondre Parks pitched in 21 points for the Jackrabbits (8-1), who played without second-leading scorer George Marshall. Picked for the preseason All-Summit League first team with fellow senior guards Bittle and Parks, Marshall had a walking boot on his right foot. He’ll be out for another three to four weeks, Nagy said, with the hope of returning when conference play starts Jan. 1.
Nate Mason scored 18 points and Kevin Dorsey added 16 points for the Gophers (5-4), who were beaten 85-81 by South Dakota at home on Saturday in double overtime. The Coyotes were predicted in the annual poll of coaches, sports information directors and media to finish fifth in the nine-team conference. The Jackrabbits, who made the NCAA tournament in 2012 and 2013 and won 24 games last season, were the landslide favorite to win the league.
"I wouldn’t say we underestimated them. I just feel like we started off slow. Once again, we need to come out with better energy," Mason said. "We came out dead again, and that can’t happen."
With Marshall missing, Nagy put the onus on Bittle to be more aggressive. He responded with a 10-for-14 shooting performance with five assists and one turnover.
"I keep telling Jake, if he’s good and energetic, we’re hard to beat," Nagy said.
Three years ago here, when eventual NBA draft pick Nate Wolters was injured, then-freshman Bittle was thrust into the starting lineup at point guard. He finished with five points and seven turnovers in an 88-64 victory by Minnesota.
"It was a big eye-opener," Bittle said. "But it’s kind of nice to come out here and redeem myself from that. I think about five people talked to me about that before the game, so it was in the back of my head a little bit."
Just then, Nagy walked past him in the hallway and quipped, "You played great your freshman year!"
Minnesota entered the evening as the second-worst defensive team in the Big Ten, allowing an average of 74.6 points, and South Dakota State took full advantage by shooting 11 of 19 from 3-point range.
Bittle swished his second one about 6 1/2 minutes into the game, giving the Jackrabbits a 17-5 lead. The Gophers didn’t cut the deficit below double digits the rest of the night and trailed 45-22 at the break. The final margin was the closest Minnesota came since the score was 24-10.
The Gophers only committed nine turnovers, another sign that South Dakota State was the stronger squad. The Gophers will be glad to be done with the Summit League portion of their schedule. They also barely beat Omaha 93-90 at home Nov. 27.
Reed Tellinghuisen had 14 points and 11 rebounds for the Jackrabbits, whose only loss was 64-57 to Missouri-Kansas City. The Gophers beat the Kangaroos 76-58.
South Dakota State, which has two Minnesotans on its roster, including starting forward Ian Theisen, shot 30 for 61 from the floor. The Jackrabbits led by as much as 66-42 early in the second half.
Joey King, who began the day tied for fourth in the Big Ten in scoring at 17.1 points per game, had just five points.
"Hey, we take pride in our defense," Parks said.
Minnesota takes on Oklahoma State in Sioux Falls, South Dakota on Saturday.