By: Joey Raymond
Headline Photo Credit: South Dakota State University
As the crowds begin to thin a bit. The stage is set after a tough battle between the Hokies and the Mocs for the next set of heavyweight fighters to take the floor. The Trojans and Jack Rabbits come out for warmups and begin taking practice shots. These two teams found different roads to get here, but when the madness of march starts, a clean slate arrives and the long path to the final four begins. The Trojans come in as the eighth seed and the Jack Rabbits come in as the ninth seed.
The Trojans under head coach Lindsay Gottlieb, have found a clear identity. They come into this matchup at 21-9. They finished fourth in the Pac-12. That identity you ask? Defense. Hard nose, old-fashioned run-you-into-the-paint defense. At 54.8 points per game on average, you can see that defense is a priority. They hope to use that to their advantage against a really good South Dakota State team. The Jack Rabbits finished first place in the Summit boasting a 28-5 record. The Jack Rabbits can score at a high clip, averaging 69.8 points a game. This is going to be a game of what breaks first. Can the Jack Rabbits bust through that hard-nosed defense of the Trojans?
Introductions start and the energy in Cassell Coliseum is electric. Tip-off starts and the Trojans get possession of the ball as Rayah Marshall gets a tough basket and foul. Both of these teams come out of the tip playing a very physical brand of basketball. Southern California and their hard-nosed brand of basketball showed early as they got several defensive stops early. Southern California proceeded to go on an 8 to 0 run before South Dakota broke through with a basket and a foul by Paige Meyer. The quarter ends with the Trojans ahead of the Jack Rabbits 12-9.
The second quarter begins under a sea of “let’s go rabbits” chants. What Hokie fans that are left in Cassell Coliseum look to be cheering for the higher-seeded Jack Rabbits. Southern California inbounds the ball and we’re off to the races. The Trojans miss a couple of deep threes before the Jack Rabbits get the ball back and score a quick basket. After a clutch three from Haleigh Timmer, the Jack Rabbits took the lead 14-12. This matchup had more ups and downs than a see-saw as going into the 5-minute mark the game was tied 16-16. The defense continued to show supreme as we went another 2 minutes before South Dakota’s Myah Selland scored a jumper. Back and forth is a recurring theme in this game as the half comes to a close with South Dakota scoring a three in the last seconds only to take a three-point lead. South Dakota leads it 23-20.
The clock strikes zeros on halftime and the second-half tip begins with the Jack Rabbits missing their first shot and the Trojans doing the same. Southern California takes a time-out with about 7 minutes left as the Jack Rabbits take a 25-20 lead. As the clock continues ticking down closer to the fourth quarter, not many changes in terms of scoring. A tough physical battle is being played between the trenches here as seemingly not one team can pull the momentum away. Southern California gets a nice block from Rayah Marshall at the 4:23 mark to get possession. The Trojans use the momentum gained by that play to draw slightly close with the score being 29-26 as the 3-minute mark hits. Rayah Marshall hits a clutch three shortly thereafter bringing the game even closer. After some more back and forth, the quarter comes to an end with a score of 34-31.
After some intense conversations from both benches during the media timeout the fourth quarter begins. The Trojans start the quarter with possession and miss the first shot they take. Jack Rabbits get the rebound and miss their shot as well. The Trojans take quick advantage of the missed shot and score on a quick layup thanks to Rokia Doumbia. After some intense back and forth, the Trojans get a much-needed basket and foul to take the lead 35-34. They then get the rebound off the missed foul shot and score a quick 2 off the jump shot from Rayah Marshall. With 6 minutes left, it’s shaping up to be a close game to the end. As the game hit 3:19 the score remained tied at 42-42. The two-minute mark hit and the only scoring was off of a Myah Selland free throw. Shortly after, Selland scores again off of a jump shot pulling the lead to three. South Dakota calls a timeout with 55.8 seconds left to regain composure before trying to further their lead. 16 seconds left and Southern California looks desperate. The Trojans get the ball after a lengthy review and hit a massive three thanks to Destiny Littleton. Again, we have a tied-up basketball game. After a missed basket from Myah Selland, we head to overtime.
A new 5-minute quarter begins as we open at 45 to 45. This has been an incredible defensive battle all the way through. Southern California wins the tip-off and misses their first basket. South Dakota States Myah Selland gets fouled and hits both free throws to jump up by two. Selland continues to battle after a Trojan missed a shot and gets a basket and a foul shot as a reward. After the free throw, the Jack Rabbits took a 49-45 lead. The Jack Rabbits grab some much-needed baskets and take a 54-47 lead as the one-minute mark hits. You can see the emotion in the Southern California cheerleaders as the Jack Rabbits further their lead with two more free throws by Paige Meyer. The Trojans are down, but not out as Destiny Littleton hits a three to bring it closer. 58 to 52 is the score with the 26.4 seconds with the Jack Rabbits leading. Destiny Littleton hits three clutch free throws to bring the score within 3 points. 11.5 seconds hit the clock when Nelson from South Dakota was fouled, giving the Jack Rabbits two more points.
The game comes to a close after a hard-fought battle from both sides. Both teams have had a great season. South Dakota State will move on and play a really tough Virginia Tech Hokies team on Sunday, March 19th. Southern California finishes a great season and unfortunately will head home. They should be proud of their season and know they left it all out there on the floor.