South Dakota continued its dominance of the Big Sky Conference Thursday night at the Rolle Activity Center, rolling to a 90-77 victory against the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks.
Despite starting off slowly, hitting under 40 percent from the field through the first quarter of the game, the Coyotes began to roll three minutes in. While the Lumberjacks (2-9) took a 5-4 lead thanks to a 3-pointer from Chris Bowling and a jumper by Gino Littles, the Coyotes (10-3) pulled ahead by as much as 17 in the first half.
With Northern Arizona scoreless for nearly five minutes following Littles' jumper, South Dakota scored eight straight before Karl Harris connected on a 3 and Corey Brown put back a missed layup. Trailing 12-10 with 11:38 left in the half, the Lumberjacks wouldn’t draw within two again as a 15-2 run for the Coyotes created too large of a margin. At one point, South Dakota connected on 7 of 10 from the field in a six-minute stretch, turning the 12-10 lead into a 31-17 advantage.
“Coming out of the gates, we had opportunities to really make it a competitive first half and we didn’t take advantage,” said Lumberjacks head coach Jack Murphy. “It seemed like they were adapting to the altitude, adapting to the game being delayed -- whatever it was, we didn't take advantage of it.”
Northern Arizona tried to keep the pressure on South Dakota in the second half, cutting the Coyotes’ lead to as little as five twice thanks to its outside shooting. Making their first run of the second half, JoJo Anderson connected on a pair of 3s, followed by a layup for Littles, to put the Lumberjacks within 10 at 44-34.
Eight minutes later, after free throws by Bowling and Anderson brought the lead to single digits, a deep 3 by Anderson cut it to 64-59 with 8:26 left. The sophomore guard brought Northern Arizona within five again at the 3:06 mark, stealing an inbounds pass, hitting a 3 and completing the 4-point play with a free throw.
Anderson finished with a career-high 30 points, hitting 5 of 10 from 3 and 11 of 13 from the free-throw line, with 27 coming in the second half. Bowling added 13 points and Carlos Hines had 10 to round out Northern Arizona’s double-digit scorers.
“That’s not going to be an every-game thing, but I think I can help with the scoring,” Anderson said. “If I can stay confident with it and keep shooting, our team needs something. We need a spark, we need something to get wins.”
Winners in nine of its last 10 against Big Sky schools since the 2014-15 season, South Dakota knocked off Northern Arizona in Flagstaff just four days after defeating Eastern Washington at home. Ranked inside the top 100 on KenPom.com, the Coyotes stand as the fourth-best team the Lumberjacks are likely to see this season, trailing only nationally ranked Arizona State, Arizona and Kansas State.
Still well below full strength, Northern Arizona sent in a returning Ruben Fuamba for 11 minutes against South Dakota while Brooks DeBisschop remained sidelined, with Torry Johnson joining him on the bench out of uniform with an injury sustained in practice.
With limited minutes from Fuamba and DeBisschop’s continued absence, Isaiah Thomas and Corey Brown remained the primary players in the frontcourt for Northern Arizona. Outscored 24-10 in the paint in the first half, and 50-18 for the game, the Lumberjacks struggled to keep up with the Coyotes' offense.
Brown picked up his fourth foul with 19:05 left in the second half, as the frontcourt as a whole struggled with foul trouble. Brown fouled out, as did Bowling and Karl Harris, while Thomas, Fuamba and Lenell Henry all finished with three.
“Their four and five are both guys that are skilled that can go off the bounce; you want to stay down and not jump for pump fakes, but you also know you are guarding a shooter,” Murphy said. “That’s something you are not going to see very often, especially in the Big Sky. We have to just be smarter with how we defend.”