SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — After a sluggish start, South Dakota State dug in, took care of the ball, and hung on to defeat Nebraska-Omaha and win the Summit League championship for the fourth time.
Nebraska native Mike Daum, who played high school ball at Kimball, scored 24 of his 37 points in the second half to help the Jackrabbits beat the Mavericks 79-77 on Tuesday night.
Nebraska-Omaha led with 4:43 left to play, but Daum, who was the league's player of the year and tournament MVP, took over. He scored seven straight to give South Dakota State a 73-72 lead with 3:30 left. The Jackrabbits wouldn't relinquish it. UNO had a chance for the win at the buzzer, but Tra-Deon Hollins' three-pointer rimmed out.
Daum went 14-for-24 from the floor and continued his torrid scoring pace, averaging 29.3 points per game in SDSU's three conference tournament wins.
"He's just a heck of a player. He's just talented and they run a lot of sets for him. You have to be on your toes the entire game," UNO's Tre'Sahwn Thurman said of Daum. "You have to be communicating and you have to know what's coming. He's able to create for other guys and able to create mismatches. He's just a tough guy to guard. I wish him well in the NCAA Tournament."
The Jackrabbits struggled early with nine turnovers in the first nine minutes. Omaha took advantage of it, building its biggest lead of the game at 16-7 when Thurman hit a three-pointer. But fortunately for SDSU, the Jackrabbits were 8-for-9 from the field over that span, keeping SDSU in the game.
"It's not typical. It's not who we've been," SDSU coach T.J. Otzelberger said of the early turnovers. "We don't need to be panicked, but I think we came out a little bit tight. We need to do a better job of taking care of the basketball. I think this team has continued to grow and find different ways to win."
After the early turnovers, SDSU (18-16) settled down and built its biggest lead of the game, leading 37-31 at halftime. But Nebraska-Omaha went on a 9-0 run to open the second half, and the back-and-forth battle in the second half was set. The second half featured eight lead changes and seven ties.
Nebraska-Omaha, in its first conference championship game in school history, had four players in double figures with Thurman leading the way with 21 points. The loss breaks a five-game win streak for the Mavericks.