Better late than never is a slogan I live too literal by as I decided to put out a blog for the first time in forever. Talking, interviewing and tweeting live action is more my skills, but I felt compelled to share my first experience at the Summit League Tournament, posing as a media member. Brace yourself, my Big J skills are suspect at best, but here goes nothing!
Between the venue, the league staff, running into old faces and connecting with coaches and media that I have befriended on twitter, I’m kicking myself for waiting so long to make the journey back after my time with the SDSU Men’s Team. To be honest, being apart of the “Dark Days” of SDSU’s program took a lot of the love for the game out of me, but in recent years I’ve recaptured it in the form of Media, by joining this amazing group of Summit League Fanatics. Back to the positive, this is a first class event on so many levels. First you won’t find a Mid-Major league that supports Women’s basketball like this, nor a Mid-Major league that will put 7,000+ people in the stands for the quarterfinals on the men’s side. Tonight I expect those numbers to be around 9,000-10,000.
As for my personal experience, I first need to give Assistant Commissioner, Ryan Powell, a tip of the cap. He’s the man who credentials all media while running the Communications, Media, and Technology side of things for the league. He’s given me an opportunity to cover this event up close, and learn from all the MIDCO Media Pros. As someone who admires the likes of Tom Niemann, Jay Elsen, Brian Shaw, Shon Morris and many more at what they do, it’s been a treat to share a lunch table, talk hoops & league news with some of them. Simply watching how they operate at this level is a learning experience I could never forget. I am not deserving of the access, treatment, and camaraderie that some of these pros have shown me. If any of you read this…THANK YOU SO MUCH!!
PRO TIP: To avoid looking and acting like a Noob at an event like this, reach out to a vet to show you the ropes. My old friend, Tyler Merriam (Voice of the Jackrabbits), was gracious enough to show me the ropes when I arrived.
QUARTERFINAL 4: North Dakota State 70 – South Dakota 68
The quarterfinals wrapped late last night, ending with with a bang. Quite literally the most dramatic moment of the entire tournament was the finish of NDSU/USD. Already the game of the tournament, USD looked to have a golden opportunity to beat the Bison when Damani Hayes seemingly having an open layup but was miraculously met at the rim by Tajavis Miller and Boden Skunberg to deny the game winner. While the play was met with heavy criticism on whether it was a foul or not, the Yotes had plenty of chances to spring an upset. The most costly of errors was the previous possession, up 1 the Yotes made a crucial stop, instead of dribbling out or drawing a foul, Kruz Perrott-Hunt threw a wild errant pass the went out of bounds. The Bison would score on the ensuing possession on a sick floater by Miller. Fans of Bison hoops, informed me that Tajavis officially became “A Dude” for his performance.
QUARTERFINAL 3: St. Thomas 67 – Western Illinois 60
The D3 to D1 Story continues for Johnny Tauer and his Tommies! Making their first ever trip to Sioux Falls, the first 30 minutes were a sweat. While Parker Bjorklund and Kendall Blue kept the Toms in reach, it felt like the physical Necks would be too much scoring over 90% of their points in the paint and just dominating too many aspects of the game. However, Andrew Rohde (1st Team & Freshman of the Year), had other plans for how this game would end. The rookie was held in check for the first 29 minutes of the game, but then he earned his status of becoming “A Dude”. With the Tommies down 10 (50-40), Rohde put on a masterful display exploding for 17 points over the final 11 minutes. He would lead all in scoring with 27 points, while Bjorklund (also A Dude) finished with It was a beautiful scene in the end to see the squad and fans celebrate history together.
Quarterfinal 2: South Dakota State 63 – Omaha 55
This Gem was truly a Tale of Two Halves. The first 20 minutes was an electric shootout with the Jacks hitting a respectable 6-15 from deep and an impressive 10-10 at the stripe. The Mavs were even more impressive behind Jaeden Marshall, going 9-16 from deep. Marshall alone hit 5 treys, ending the half with 19 points. Unfortunately for fans, the electricity of the game went to the locker room and never left. In a bizarre twist, neither team could regain their shooting touch over the final 20 minutes as both teams shot 19% from the field. The deciding factor was SDSU going small to better guard Omaha on the perimeter and becoming more aggressive on the attack. Marshall hot shooting abruptly ended shooting 0-6 from the field, while the Jacks made 16 additional trips to the line.
Quarterfinal 1: Oral Roberts 96 – North Dakota 80
Sweeping the league slate, ORU arrived in Sioux Falls with heavy expectations to continue their run back to the Big Dance. On top of that, the Golden Eagles arrived unceremoniously as the villain’s because of a few comments about the weather and tournament format. The whole hoopla over an interview Paul Mills did with his local media, honestly cracked me up because of the reaction of folks around the league. Paul speaks mind and not many are fans of it, but as someone who has got to know him the past few years, he’s a good guy. If not for their Sweet 16 run and his willingness to allow me access to their program, I would not be sitting here in Sioux Falls right now.
Back to the game…from start to finish we witnessed an experienced and talented squad flex their muscles and show zero signs that they would be rattled by playing the villain. Even more impressive, they dominated this game start to finish without big nights from their star guards, Max Abmas and Issac McBride. The guy who would earn his “Dude” status was senior Power Guard, Carlos Jurgens. Using his size (6’5″ 205) to post up the smaller UND guards, the Estonian would lead all in scoring with 21 points. Kareem Thompson, the other unsung hero of the team chipped in with 15 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, and 3 steals.
If you survived this blog…I salute you!! Now back to live tweeting as Semifinal Action is about to tip between ORU and St. Thomas!!