SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – It’s been a wildly inconsistent year for IUPUI. They beat every team in the conference except one, but lost three straight games three times and never managed a three-game winning streak. That resume doesn’t inspire much confidence, but it does leave a big question mark. They answered that question Saturday night with an emphatic 76-57 win over North Dakota State.
The Jaguars pulled off the upset despite just 21 combined points from their two leading scorers, Darell Combs and Matt O’Leary. They got strong performances from just about everyone, especially Aaron Brennan. Brennan recorded his first career double-double with career highs in points (18) and rebounds (11) while also blocking two shots. Kellon Thomas scored eight points on 50 percent shooting with two rebounds, two assists and no turnovers. Evan Hall hit four-of-five shots for 10 points and T.J. Henderson scored eight to go along with four rebounds two assists, a steal and no turnovers.
The Jaguars and Bison split the season series with each team winning a close high-scoring game on their home court. This one was different though. After a close first half, IUPUI ran away in the second. After North Dakota State pulled within one point with 13:31 left in the game, IUPUI held them to 14 points the rest of the way on 4-for-16 shooting with five turnovers. They did it by dominating in the paint, forcing turnovers and capitalizing. For the game, IUPUI outscored North Dakota State 38-20 in the paint and out-rebounded them 37-30 including 9-7 on the offensive glass. They forced 12 turnovers while turning the ball over nine times themselves with two of them coming with the game already out of reach and North Dakota State playing season-ending desperation basketball. They also outscored North Dakota State off the turnover 18-7.
After giving up 93 and 81 points in their first two meetings, IUPUI clamped down this time allowing just 57, including only 24 second-half points. The Bison shot just 37 percent and scored their fewest points in a game since going on the road to Arkansas in December.
A year ago, the roles were reversed and North Dakota State stifled the IUPUI offense, but the Jaguars were without Combs in that one. He shot just 4-for-10 this time, but demanded attention from the Bison defense allowing others to get open. Brennan took full advantage in the early minutes with back-to-back three-point baskets, the first of which was assisted by Combs. Outside of an errant 3-point attempt following three-straight makes from his teammates, Combs posted a solid 11 points, three assists and two steals.
Now that the monkey is off their backs, IUPUI can look ahead to round two of the Summit League Tournament on Monday. They’ll play the winner of Sunday’s game between Omaha and Fort Wayne.