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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - South Dakota State senior Griffan Callahan didn't like the looks on his teammates' faces at halftime against Western Illinois.
The Jackrabbits were trailing, and they couldn't seem to make a shot.
"I told them just to not give up and stay positive," he said. "Our shots weren't falling, and some of the guys were down. We can't have that in the locker room. I told them we're going to win this."
Callahan made good on his promise, making two free throws to force overtime and then hitting the winning three-pointer in a 52-50 victory in the Summit League championship game Tuesday night.
Those locker-room frowns were turned upside down as the Jackrabbits celebrated earning the Summit's automatic NCAA tournament bid. They'll make their first NCAA appearance since becoming full-fledged Division I members four years ago.
"I haven't had many times in my life where I felt I was just dreaming," said Scott Nagy, who has been SDSU's coach since 1995.
"I was looking for my wife and my dad," he said, choking up, "because they went through it with me. It was hard on them, too. I'm so pleased for them, too."
Callahan made the go-ahead three-pointer with 1:30 left, and the Jackrabbits (27-7) survived some nervous moments.
"I knew it was going in because I knew it was Griff," Nagy said. "When we've made big shots this season, it's been Griffan Callahan who's made the shot. When he took that, just deep down I knew it was going in."
Western Illinois had a couple opportunities to tie or take the lead. The Leathernecks turned it over when Ceola Clark lost control of the ball and committed a shot-clock violation. The same thing happened to SDSU on the other end, with Nate Wolters unable to get his shot from the baseline off before the clock ran out.
Tommie Tyler had the last chance after the Leathernecks got the ball back with 10 seconds left, but he couldn't get his short shot to fall. Terell Parks rebounded but was stripped by SDSU's Brayden Carlson, who held the ball a moment before the buzzer sounded and SDSU's students rushed the court.
A Sioux Falls newspaper columnist wrote that it would be the high point in South Dakota sports history if the Jackrabbits made it to the NCAA tournament.
All but a handful of the 6,526 at Sioux Falls arena -- 50 miles from SDSU's campus in Brookings -- were wearing the school colors. Most of them were standing the last 10 minutes of regulation and through overtime.
Wolters, the Summit tournament MVP, said no one deserves the NCAA bid more than Nagy, who coached the Jackrabbits during their Division II days.
"He's been through it all," said Wolters, a junior from St. Cloud Tech. "It's unbelievable, being in Division II and making the transition. To have this kind of year and this finish -- well, we're not finished yet. I'm still soaking it in and probably will enjoy it for a couple days. It should be fun, a first in school history."
Western Illinois (18-14) lost in its first Summit final since 1997 and was denied its first NCAA berth.
"It didn't work out," Tyler said, "but we played our hearts out. They're a great team."
Wolters led the Jackrabbits with 14 points and Callahan added 10. Parks led Western Illinois with 19 points.
Wolters, who scored 31 points against Southern Utah on 10-for-17 shooting, was only 5-for-22 from the floor.
"He's one of the best in the country," Nagy said. "He struggled tonight, but big deal. He's allowed to struggle once in a while."
Each team endured long rough patches offensively. South Dakota State's slump bridged the first and second halves and allowed the Leathernecks to build a 12-point lead. Western Illinois struggled late and let the Jackrabbits come back to force overtime.
The Jackrabbits won despite shooting 35 percent, while Western Illinois shot 40 percent.
There were nine lead changes and four ties early before the Leathernecks held the Jackrabbits scoreless for 6 1/2 minutes and rolled off 10 straight points.
Wolters ended SDSU's 10:06 stretch without a field goal when he banked in a runner, and he scored again a few minutes later to start a 9-2 spurt that pulled the Jackrabbits to 44-42 with 3 1/2 minutes left in regulation.
The Leathernecks made just one field goal in the last 7:40 of regulation, giving the Jackrabbits ample opportunity to come back.
Callahan's two free throws made it 44-all with 15.3 seconds left.
The Leathernecks tried to win it on a last shot. Clark let the clock run down under 5 seconds before he ducked under Wolters at the left wing and put up a shot that glanced off the rim just ahead of the buzzer.
"We weren't good tonight," Nagy said, "but a lot of that had to do with Western Illinois. We stayed in the game because we defended... Griff made huge plays for us late. He was the senior we needed."Women
South Dakota State 78, Missouri-Kansas City 77: Jill Young wasn't supposed to have the ball in her hands, but she's glad she did.
Young made the go-ahead free throws with 7.1 seconds left in overtime and South Dakota State overcame a 17-point deficit to beat UMKC and win the Summit League tournament championship for a fourth consecutive year.
"Four times is unbelievable," coach Aaron Johnston said. "I don't think it's easy to describe how difficult it is to get to an NCAA tournament. These games are so pressure packed. To find ways to come out on top really has a lot do with Jill and Jennie (Sunnarborg). Those two were really good for us tonight."
Young found herself at the free-throw line with a chance to win the game after getting fouled along the baseline. She had unexpectedly gotten the ball on an inbound pass. Johnston actually had drawn up an inbound play that had the ball going to the 6-2 Sunnarborg.
Young was starting toward the basket when LeAndrea Thomas fouled her.
"I don't think I ever caught the ball on an out-of-bounds play right there," Young said. "I thought I might have a chance to get a bucket and get us back in there, draw a foul. I was able to do that.
"I've shot a lot of free throws in my life over the last 23 years, so there definitely wasn't any doubt or hesitation in my mind. I knew I had to go up there and think they were going in."
The Jackrabbits (24-8) earned the Summit League's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament with their 15th win in 16 games. They first had to survive an incredible individual performance by UMKC's Dayon Hall-Jones.
Hall-Jones, who finished with 27 points, scored 19 of her team's 26 points during a 12-minute stretch of the second half and had the ball after Young's free throws gave the top-seeded Jackrabbits the lead. She drove into the lane and got off a shot that bounced off the backboard just before the buzzer.
"I was just thinking that I want to attack the basket, try to get a foul and get the win for my team," Hall-Jones said. "I guess it just didn't happen."
Sunnarborg, who had 10 of her 12 points after halftime and grabbed nine rebounds, joins fellow senior Young as the only players who have been part of all four of SDSU's NCAA tournament teams.
"Legacy is a great word for those seniors," Johnston said.
Young said she never fathomed going to the NCAA tournament four times, considering it was only in 2004-05 that the Jackrabbits began transitioning to Division I from Division II.
"This means as much as the other three (times)," Young said. "To do it as a senior and end my career here in South Dakota, playing here my whole life, it's neat to be a part of."
Young and Ashley Eide led the Jackrabbits with 13 points apiece, and Tara Heiser added 12.
Kim Nezianya had 17 points and 12 rebounds for UMKC (22-11), which was playing for its first Summit championship.
Eilise O'Connor, who had five points on 2-for-8 shooting in regulation, made back-to-back jumpers to give the Kangaroos a 77-76 lead with 30 seconds left in overtime.
Young's shot on the other end clanged off the rim, and the Jackrabbits got the ball back with 11.2 seconds left on the alternating possession after Sunnarborg and Hailey Houser went to the floor in a scrum.
Next came the critical foul that sent Young to the line, and then two swished free throws.
Hall-Jones drove hard into the lane on the final play but couldn't draw a foul call, and her shot was too hard to go in.
"I felt I got a little bump, but the ball didn't go in and that's just it," Hall-Jones said. "I know that refs aren't going to make that call at the end of the game."
UMKC, the tournament's third seed, came into the game off seven straight wins since losing to South Dakota State on Feb. 11.
The Jackrabbits, 12-0 all-time in Summit League tournament games, won their sixth straight meeting with the Kangaroos.
"It hurts," Nezianya said. "It hurts to lose any time. We all believed we could do it and came in here being the underdog and that didn't matter. We were going to fight until the clock said zeroes, and we did."
Victory looked improbable for the Jackrabbits after they shot 29 percent in the first half and found themselves down 17 points late in the half.
But SDSU used a 14-0 run bridging the halves, with Sunnarborg becoming a big factor after going three-quarters of the game without a field goal and just two points.
|Chicago Cubs - LP: E. Jackson||2||FINAL|
|Pittsburgh - WP: V. Mazzaro||4|
|Baltimore - LP: K. Gausman||6||FINAL|
|Toronto - WP: B. Morrow||12|
|Cleveland - WP: Z. McAllister||12||FINAL|
|Boston - LP: R. Dempster||3|
|Minnesota - LP: J. Burton||6||FINAL|
|Detroit - WP: J. Benoit||7|
|LA Angels - WP: J. Blanton||5||FINAL|
|Kansas City - LP: E. Santana||4|
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