Men’s basketball: South Dakota State escapes St. Thomas’ snare with 1-point win

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The feel-good story that has been St. Thomas men’s basketball this season was on the brink of taking the noise level up another notch Thursday night at Schoenecker Arena.

With the Tommies clinging to a one-point lead over perennial Summit League power South Dakota State in the closing seconds, guard Raheem Anthony, who led an impressive second-half comeback, was at the free-throw line for two shots.

But Anthony, who delivered 18 second-half points, missed both free throws, setting up SDSU’s Zeke Mayo to be the hero, as the Jackrabbits guard scored with six seconds remaining for an 81-80 SDSU victory.

It was a sudden reversal that stunned a crowd of 1,515 that was sure it was witnessing the Tommies about to emerge as the only undefeated team in the Summit. Instead, the Tommies dropped to 12-6 overall and 2-1 in conference play after letting a lead that grew to as many as eight points slip away.

“I don’t think anyone in our locker room looks at those two free throws as the reason we lost,” said St. Thomas coach Johnny Tauer. “There were 130 possessions between the two (teams). It’s not the last shot their guy made, it’s not those free throws, it’s the compilation of that.

“Raheem was unbelievable the second half, what he did and what he has done for us all season.”

Indeed, with the Tommies trailing by nine at halftime, Anthony and Kendall Blue led the charge in the second half as the Tommies turned the tables on the Jackrabbits and were the more aggressive team.

Blue, who scored 17 points, and Anthony, two of the Tommies’ most dynamic players, were getting it done both by being aggressive toward the basket and by hitting some clutch 3s.

The Jackrabbits finished the first half on a 12-0 run to take a 39-30 lead into the locker room. SDSU had an 18-4 edge in points in the paint in the half, helping the Jackrabbits shoot 57.1 percent from the field.

In contrast, seven of the Tommies’ first-half baskets were 3-pointers, connecting on 7 of 22 (31.8 percent).

“We didn’t shoot it great in the first half,” Tauer said, “but I liked the shots we were getting. Actually, at halftime it’s not like we overhauled anything. I thought we were a little more successful getting the ball to the basket in the second half.

“They are very good at taking away the paint, so that’s not easy to do. I probably would have told you coming into the game that we were going to shoot a lot of 3s, because of how they defend and how difficult they make it to get into the paint.

“Some of it was in transition; we were able to get rebounds and get paint touches and transition 3s.”

The Tommies went on a run of their own at the start of the second half, outscoring the Jackrabbits 13-3 in the first four minutes to cut SDSU’s lead to 42-41.

St. Thomas regained the lead with nine minutes to play on a pair of free throws by Blue, at 58-57. When Blue hit a 3 with six minutes, 42 seconds to play, the lead was 67-60.

A couple of minutes later, a three-point play by Blue on a drive to the basket had the Tommies up 70-62, and all signs were pointing to another eye-opening win for the Tommies.

The Jackrabbits, however, had other plans.

“As a competitor, losing a tough one like that, you always look back on plays you would love to have back,” said Tommies forward Brooks Allen, who scored 11 points as one of four Tommies in double figures. “Unfortunately, that’s not how the game works, that’s not how life works.

“It’s a long season. We’re not done yet. We’ll have a lot more to show you guys.”

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