An announcement was made in late June that Richard Pitino would be bringing his basketball team to Sioux Falls, S.D., to play Oklahoma State on Dec. 12. The site would be the 3,250-seat Sanford Pentagon.
It was considered quite a coup to get the Gophers — the collegiate kings of the nearby Twin Cities — to play one of their nonconference games in little old Sioux Falls.
No doubt, the tickets are sold, although the excitement level of seeing the Gophers might have lost some steam in the 79-hour period from 2 p.m. Saturday to 9 p.m. Tuesday.
Vermillion is home to the South Dakota Coyotes and located 65 miles south of Sioux Falls. Brookings is home to the South Dakota State and is located 50 miles north of Sioux Falls.
The Gophers had played big brother to their neighbors occasionally in the past, although not in the same season since the Germans and the Japanese already had surrendered in 1945.
South Dakota was 0-14 all-time vs. the Gophers and South Dakota State 0-17.
South Dakota was picked to finish fifth in the nine-team Summit League and had a roster heavy with Minnesotans. The home-staters were very important in the Coyotes’ 85-81, two-overtime victory that ended the Gophers’ 47-game, nonconference home winning streak.
South Dakota State was picked to finish first in the Summit. The Jackrabbits had two Minnesotans on the roster, and they contributed three points.
The reports of a one-third filled Barn had been persistent during the Gophers’ first seven home appearances (including two exhibitions).
On Tuesday, there was a long line of students outside the doors at Williams Arena well before tipoff.
“Where is this enthusiasm coming from?” an old reporter asked.
A young woman said: “They are giving away gold sweatshirts with student tickets.”
As it turned out, Pitino’s players also had gifts to offer: open three-pointers and rebounds when required for the visitors, and some of the most abysmal ball movement ever witnessed for the home team on the elevated floor.
This all occurred in the first half and the score was: Summit League favorites 45, proud members of the Big Ten 22. Yup … 45-22.
The final was 84-70, Jacks, putting the South Dakota schools’ all-time winning percentage at .000 (0-31) vs. all previous Gophers coaches faced, and at .667 (2-1) vs. Pitino.
South Dakota State’s roster included George Marshall, a 6-1 senior who transferred from Wisconsin.
Asked what Marshall offers to the Jacks, coach Scott Nagy said:
“George is a tremendous ball handler and tremendous jump shooter. He’s the best jump shooter on our team. He’s also an outstanding on-ball defender.”
Clearly, Marshall is a key for the Jacks, which means if he had played Tuesday, things could have gotten kind of ugly for Richard’s rodents.
Marshall had a sprained right ankle that turned into a deeper pain in his leg. He missed Tuesday’s game, and Nagy said, “We hope to have him back for the start of conference play [Jan. 1].”
Nagy paused and said: “Keaton [Moffitt] stepped in and did an excellent job at the point.”
Nagy had been the coach for 20 years, leading South Dakota State from its Division II roots to full accreditation in Division I in 2009.
He endured nine straight losses (2005-13) in Williams Arena before Tuesday’s blowout.
The Jacks arrived in 2012 feeling as if they had a real shot to beat the Gophers, with Nate Wolters, a senior from St. Cloud, as a backcourt star.
But Wolters missed the game because of an injury, freshman Jake Bittle had to try to run the show and the score was 88-64, Gophers.
“Jake had a rough time against Andre Hollins and those other Gopher guards,” Nagy said. “We spent about a year-and-a-half trying to make Jake a point guard, and then moved him and told him to shoot.”
Now a senior, Bittle was 10-for-14 from the field (3-for-4 on three-pointers) and was the high scorer with 25 points. The best player on the court, though, was Deondre Parks, a senior guard from Flint, Mich.
How about this victory?
“Great,” Parks said. “I’m a city kid. I like a chance to play in a big arena.”
Even when it’s more than half empty, apparently.
Patrick Reusse can be heard 3-6 p.m. weekdays on AM-1500. firstname.lastname@example.org