INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – It was a bittersweet end to the regular season for IUPUI. It was the final home game for Darell Combs, Matt O’Leary, Kellon Thomas, Josh James and Grant Sinn. Each of them was able to enjoy the post-game celebration of their collegiate athletic careers, but not without the cloud of a 92-85 loss to the regular season Summit League champions, South Dakota.
Darell Combs was his usual self, leading the team with 19 points and adding on five assists. He had a slow first half, but scored 17 of his 19 in the second on 7-for-11 shooting including a basket midway through the half that put him over the 1,000-point mark for his IUPUI career. Matt O’Leary finished with 18 points on 50-percent shooting and four rebounds while Aaron Brennan added 14 points and five rebounds.
On the other side it was the Matt Mooney show. He got to the line 10 times and hit three three-point baskets on his way to 27 points and eight rebounds. Only Triston Simpson got to the line more and he hit all 14 of his free-throw attempts to finish with 14 points.
IUPUI went into the break down just six points despite shooting only 34 percent and putting South Dakota at the line 15 times. They rebounded quickly in the second half with layups on three of their first four possessions. Combs and Patterson hit a pair of 3-pointers on the next two to tie the game at 45. They retook the lead for the first time since the nine-minute mark in the first half two possessions later. Thomas got into the paint and scored, drew a foul, and made the free throw to complete the three-point play. Less than a minute later O’Leary found Patterson in the paint for two and then hit a 3-pointer himself after a South Dakota turnover to put IUPUI up 53-51 with 13:54 left.
During the first 6:04 of the second half, IUPUI shot 8-for-12 from the floor and outscored South Dakota 20-12. They could not keep up their torrid pace though and South Dakota took full advantage at the line to regain control. In the final 13 minutes the Coyotes went 22-for-25 from the line including 18-for-20 in the final four minutes.
In all, it was a very closely contested game. IUPUI shot just a hair lower than South Dakota, was out-rebounded 40-35 but made up for it by outscoring South Dakota 48-32 in the paint. The one thing that stands out though is the free throws. IUPUI was absolutely destroyed at the line. South Dakota finished 35-for-43 and outscored IUPUI by 19 points at the line. It was their worst margin at the line since their season opener when they allowed Eastern Kentucky to shoot 56 free throws.
All season long IUPUI has been playing incomplete games. They either fall behind early or relax too much in the second half and let the game get away. In this case they let South Dakota shoot 59 percent in the second half and get to the line 28 times. South Dakota nearly made as many free throws in the second half (24) as IUPUI attempted for the game (25). The same thing has happened on a broader scale. Six times IUPUI won back-to-back games and they were coming off back-to-back wins heading into Saturday’s night’s game. Each time though, they last their next game. Five of the six times they followed up their wins with a losing streak.
The Jaguars are fortunate though. They’ve showed throughout the season that they’re capable of beating every team in the conference. South Dakota was the only team to sweep IUPUI and both games were close. It doesn’t matter that they haven’t won three-straight games yet this season. They only have to have one three-game winning streak and if they do it now, they’re in the NCAA Tournament. Step one comes next Saturday at 9:30 p.m. against North Dakota State.