The Thunderbirds – who lost leading scorer Jackson Stevenett to an injury less than three minutes into the game – played the Jack’s tough through the first 20 minutes. SDSU opened the second half with a 13-2 run, however and after trailing by just one at the break, the T-Birds were forced to play catch-up the rest of the game and couldn’t ever get over the hump.
The beginning of the game couldn’t have gone much more poorly for the Thunderbirds as Ray Jones, Jr., picked up his first foul with just five seconds expired in the game and Stevenett twisted his ankle after scoring a layup with 17:06 to play.
The Thunderbirds hung in, however. Although they fell behind 15-7 on a Wolters layup with 14:22 to play they responded with a nine point run to take a 16-15 lead when Ramell Taylor rebounded a missed Matt Massey free throw and scored.
The half ended with SDSU holding a 28-27 advantage.
SDSU took control coming out of the locker room, however. The teams exchanged baskets in the first minute but the Jackrabbits ran off 10 straight points, four by Wolters, to go up 41-29.
The Thunderbirds battled back to pull within 10 points on two occasions but could never get the deficit back within single-digits.
“Nate’s a really good player, he’s a great player,” Jones said. “He’s really crafty, he’s really good at getting you in foul trouble. He wears you down throughout the course of a game. He plays 40 minutes, he’s in great shape but I feel like I’m in great shape as well, so it’s really a mental game you have to play with him the whole game.”
“South Dakota State played a great game,” SUU Coach Roger Reid said. “I think they’re playing the best of any team in the league right now. Give them a lot of credit.
“With that being said I really feel terrible for [Stevenett],” Reid added. “He’s all-league, our top scorer, our top rebounder, we’re not going to compete without our top scorer in the lineup, but that doesn’t take away from everyone else in that setting. It doesn’t take anything away from South Dakota State … we wish we would have had Jackson in the game and to tell you the truth I think they would have loved to have him in the lineup too.”
“Jackson leaves a big hole when he goes,” Damon Heuir, who led SUU with 14 points, said. “When he gets hurt like that it’s a big hole to fill but we’ve been a team all year. The offense was getting people shots, I hit a couple and some other guys hit a couple, I think the [team] offense was what tried to fill Jackson’s hole.”
Heuir was the only Thunderbird to finish in double figures. Jones scored nine points and pulled down six rebounds.
Jordan Dykstra was the only other Jackrabbit to post double figures, with 17. Wolters also had a game-high seven rebounds and dished out six assists.