Stanley Umude put on a show in his final home game as a South Dakota Coyote, accumulating 39 points on 14 of 25 shooting with five 3-pointers and four assists. It was a prolific performance, one most should have expected out of the senior captain considering what this team has dealt with over the last 24 hours.
Despite Umude’s best efforts, it wasn’t enough to overcome a well-balanced scoring effort by North Dakota State, which pulled away for an 89-77 victory Sunday in Vermillion. Whereas nearly 80 percent of the Coyotes’ scoring came from two players (Umude and Tasos Kamateros) NDSU had four finish in double figures, led by Sam Griesel with 26 points on 10 of 15 shooting with four 3s.
The Coyotes, who would have secured the regular-season Summit League title with a victory, will instead open as the 2-seed against No. 7 Western Illinois.
“We could be cutting down the nets,” Umude said. “We had a chance to go out there and do something special today, but we couldn’t get it done.”
The loss certainly stings, but it was an extremely gutsy performance by the Coyotes, whose starting point guard, AJ Plitzuweit, dislocated his knee in Saturday’s win.
“It’s been hard on the guys, it’s been hard on the coaches, it’s been hard on everybody,” coach Todd Lee said. “There were a lot of tears, a lot of guys with their heads down. The first time I smiled, I think, was when AJ came to shootaround today… He showed up with a big smile on his face — he always does — and told me, ‘Coach, I’ll be back. I’ll be back with you soon.'”
“I knew right when it all happened, I wouldn’t be good again until I saw him again, I saw him smiling,” Umude added. “We saw him last night at the house and he was with us today at shootaround. It’s good to just have him around.”
On the basketball side of things, Plitzuweit’s injury left the Coyotes with less than a day to figure out how to replace one of their best players before taking the floor against one of the Summit League’s best with a conference title on the line.
Sunday’s retooled lineup saw Kanon Koster replace Plitzuweit in the starting lineup, while Kruz Perrott-Hunt stepped in at point guard.
“It’s tough and with the way the schedule is now, there’s not really a lot of time to adjust to playing without a piece like AJ,” Umude said. “With the way he went out, I don’t think any of us got much sleep last night.”
With respect to the game itself, Umude carried USD through the first half, pouring in 27 points on 10 of 15 shooting. He accounted for 21 of the team’s first 24 points and helped them build a 10-point lead midway through the first half.
When NDSU stormed back to take the lead heading into halftime, Kamateros stepped up with a pair of 3s to bookend an 11-5 run that gave USD a 48-45 advantage with 17 minutes remaining.
The Bison managed to contain Umude through the first 12 minutes of the second half, limiting him to just five points. After weathering that initial run, the visitors responded with a 27-8 surge that featured five 3-pointers and gave them a 16-point advantage.
The lack of scoring beyond Umude and Kamateros played a large role in the Coyotes’ demise. While those two combined for 61 points on 21 of 35 shooting with 10 3s, the rest of the team mustered 16 points on 4 of 15 shooting with an 0-for-4 mark from the field.
It’s understandable given the circumstances, but finding a variety of scoring options to step up alongside Umude will be critical in Sioux Falls.
“We have a full week of practice to adjust to play without AJ,” Umude said. “I told the guys we have to figure it out, maybe change our gameplan a little bit.”
USD finished shooting 50 percent from the field with a 10-for-18 mark from 3. They were out-rebounded 34-18 (10-1 on the offensive glass).
The focus now is on regrouping ahead of next Saturday’s game vs. Western Illinois.
“It’s been a very emotional 24 hours for our group. I couldn’t be more proud of them,” Lee said. “We’ve accomplished so much this year and now we’ll get ready for the Summit League tournament.”
Follow Brian Haenchen on Twitter at @Brian_Haenchen.