(OMAHA,Ne)—Carrie Banks made her coaching debut at Baxter Arena on Friday afternoon and faced South Dakota State, a team who received votes in last week’s AP Top-25 poll. Omaha led from wire-to-wire in the first half, but a balanced scoring attack in the second half led the Jackrabbits past the Mavericks in game one of the weekend series.
Omaha is scoring just 51 points per game this season and rank last in the Summit League in that category. The Mavs improved their shooting numbers in the North Dakota State series last weekend, shooting 42% as a team in the two games, and took a step forward in the opening quarter against the Jackrabbits—who have beaten three top-25 teams already this season.
Omaha opened the game on a 9-2 run and paced that lead for the first eight minutes of the opening quarter, leading 17-10. Omaha didn’t miss a shot until there was 1:16 left in the quarter, and went 6-of-7 in the opening frame—3-of-3 from long distance. The Jackrabbits were the beneficiary of seven Maverick turnovers in the opening quarter, and Myah Selland and Paiton Burckhard did enough offensively to keep South Dakota State within striking distance. The Jackrabbits have only trailed twice this season after the first quarter heading into Friday’s contest, and Omaha went into the second quarter leading 19-14.
Omaha’s defense gave the Jackrabbits problems the entire first half. They found ways to scramble and defend the dribble-drive actions, along with altering shots in the frontcourt from South Dakota State effectively. They forced eight first half turnovers and held the Jackrabbits to just 37% from the floor, and 0-of-8 from behind the arc.
“I think our defense all year has been the best thing about this team,” Banks said following the game. “I think our team does a good job of just scrambling, kind of organized chaos at times.”
Selland, who has been named Summit League Player of the Week four times already this season, started to find a rhythm in the second half. She opened the frame on a 6-0 run by herself to give South Dakota State a four point lead. Three extra offensive rebounds and a much more productive third quarter from the floor led to South Dakota State finally finding their groove to get out to a seven point lead by the end of the quarter.
Elena Pilakouta had another strong performance for Omaha. She averaged 13.5 points per game in the North Dakota State series, and came to life from the second quarter to the final buzzer. The junior from Cyprus played just 12 minutes per game in Brittany Lange’s offense last season, and now has averaged 29 minutes per game in the last three outings for Coach Banks. Even when she wasn’t scoring, she was attracting attention from enough Jackrabbit defenders to open up perimeter shooters and driving lanes. Pilakouta had 13 points and 6 rebounds in the final three quarters.
“When we throw the ball into (Pilakouta), good things happen,” Banks said. “She’s got great footwork, great touch around the rim—I’m just excited to have that low-post presence.”
South Dakota State got out to a 54-44 lead with 6:58 left, their largest of the game. Carrie Banks and Co. drew it back within six at 56-50 with 1:09 left. Omaha was able to get two missed free throws from Haley Greer, but an offensive rebound and two ensuing free throws from Selland with 41 seconds left made the comeback attempt a much tougher one to overcome. Free throws would help South Dakota State close the game out and lift them to a 62-50 win.
Selland led the way for South Dakota State with 20 points, followed by Burckhard with 12. Pilakouta finished with a team-high 15 points, with Ella Ogier and Josie Filer scoring in double-figures as well with 12 and 10. The two teams face off again tomorrow at 3 p.m. for game two at Baxter Arena.