It’s game night in the frozen tundra that is Vermillion.
Tonight, the University of South Dakota men tangle with Cornell inside the DakotaDome. As you know by now, Cornell (12-3) is coming off a near upset at No. 1 Kansas on Wednesday night.
Obviously the biggest home for the Coyote men (6-7) not only this season but in a long long time. The Big Red have advanced to the NCAA Tournament in the past two seasons, losing in the first round both times.
But this is still a very talented team on the opposing bench tonight. The guy to watch is senior forward Ryan Wittman, already the school’s all-time leading scorer. The Eden Prairie, Minn. native is averaging 19.2 points this season.
USD is coming off a loss to No. 12 Kansas State last Sunday. Tonight begins a four-game homestand for the Coyotes, who will host SIU-Edwardsville tomorrow (Saturday) night.
Tip-off on the way. Buckle in; this’ll be a good one.
Starters for Cornell: Jeff Foote (C), Chris Wroblewski (G), Louis Dale (G), Ryan Wittman (F) and Blair, Neb. native Pete Reynolds (F)
Starters for USD: Roman Gentry (G/F), Kendall Cutler (G), Jake Thomas (G), Tyler Cain (F) and Steve Smith (C).
— — —
Quick start for USD, thanks to a pair of threes from big man Steve Smith. Cornell responded with a jumper from Wittman and a three by Dale to pull ahead 5-3. But Cain hit a layup, Smith drained his second three and Thomas nailed one.
Coyotes lead 11-5, as Cornell coach Steve Donahue calls a timeout. Crowd into it.
Speaking of which, naturally a big crowd for the game tonight. More people across the way in the seats, with a good Cornell following behind me. Media timeout with 15:06 left in the first half. USD still leads 11-5.
Hot shooting continues for USD, which is 5-of-6 from downtown. Freshman guard Jake Thomas has already drained 3 threes for 9 points in the first eight minutes. Coyote defense has done a nice job keeping 7-foot Cornell center Jeff Foote off the boards so far.
At the 11:33 mark, USD leads Cornell 22-15.
Cornell’s coach is already chirping to his team about matching USD’s energy. Coyotes have come out strong against the Big Red. Cornell has turned up the defensive pressure, though, slicing USD’s lead to 24-20. Wittman has 11 points for the Big Red, with three runners in the lane.
At the 6:12 mark, USD leads Cornell 26-24.
Already two massive blocks for Cornell defenders into the USD dance team, parked underneath the home basket. Look out down there, ladies.
Thomas has 13 for the Coyotes, and got the last two on a jumper as he was knocked to the floor. Kid got up pumping his chest; dude really gets into it out there. He’ll head to the free throw line after the media timeout. USD leads 30-27 with 3:48 left in the first half.
Cornell puts together a 9-0 run to close the first half. Jon Jaques and Wittman each hit three-pointers, and Dale gets a hoop and a free throw.
HALF: Cornell 36, USD 31.
Coyotes were 11-of-29 (37.9 percent) from the field in the half, including five three-pointers and 4-of-7 from the free throw line.
Cornell shot 14-of-33 (42.4 percent) from the floor, with six three-pointers and 2-of-2 from the line.
— — — —
After USD responded to tie the game on two occasions, Cornell has put together another 9-0 run to pull ahead 49-40 with 14:10 to play. Big Red have moved the ball more efficiently in the opening few minutes. Jeff Foote got his first points of the game on a little hook shot two minutes ago.
USD’s Smith has another three in the half, and has three in the game. Gentry has four in the half. Cornell’s coach, Donahue, isn’t much of a screamer, but he’s constantly up talking to his guys.
Coyotes cut the Cornell lead down to 49-44 after a free throw by Cutler and a basket + free throw by Bouie. Speaking of which, Bouie is one entertaining dude to watch; has great facial expressions after baskets. But Cornell’s Geoff Reeves drains a three, followed by a basket underneath by USD’s Cain. Big Red lead 52-46 with 11:35 to play.
With 8:56 to play, Cornell leads 54-50 after a 4-0 spurt for USD. Cutler gets to the basket for a layup and Gentry hits two free throws. Jake Thomas just left the game after going down with what looked like a knee injury. He was up though, and walked to the bench.
Tyler Cain gets a basket down low, bringing the Coyotes within 54-52. And the Dome crowd gets as loud as I’ve heard it in a long time (probably since the last SDSU game). Everyone’s into it now.
Cornell’s Louis Dale drains a three-pointer and gets a little runner off the glass to push the CU lead to 59-52. Media timeout with 6:21 to play.
Gentry hits another basket in the paint, Cornell’s Alex Tyler gets a hoop and Cain follows with another basket. At the 4:08 mark, Thomas hits the second of 2 free throws. With 3:58 to play, Cornell leads 61-57.
With 1:12 to play, Cutler draws USD within four with a little leaner in the lane. Cornell leads 67-63. Big Red coach Steve Donahue calls a timeout. Teams have pretty much traded baskets for the bulk of the second half.
After a steal by Cain in the far corner, USD’s Cutler is fouled on the way to the hoop. In the 1-and-1 situation, the junior transfer knocks down both free throws. Cornell leads 67-65 with 49.4 seconds to play.
Mick Garry and I just about got barreled over here at media row, as USD’s Bouie was chasing after a loose ball. It’ll be Cornell ball after another timeout by Donahue.
FINAL: Cornell 71, USD 65.
Score is very similar to the Kansas final on Wednesday night.
Big Red hit some free throws down the stretch.
I’ll have more on this game later. For now, stay warm.