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My 800GP journey began in the cold, dark expanse of Alaska at the Great Alaska Shootout way back in November. As a current resident of the Last Great Frontier it was to be what I thought might be my only live Division I basketball experience this season. Instead, I've been fortunate enough to see 17 games, and most of them involving teams below the red line.
Out of the 17 games and 13 different teams, ten of the 13 teams made postseason play in some fashion and five of 11 below-the-red-line teams I've seen this season are in the Big Dance (with three of the games here in the Albuquerque Regional).
Three teams, Montana, Harvard and South Dakota State all had hopes of springing the ultimate Red Line Upset, the one that comes on the grandest stage-- The Big Dance. Unfortunately "It Always Ends In A Loss" rang true for my 800GP experience on Thursday in Albuquerque.
South Dakota State was the final game of the day involving a below-the-red-line team. The Jackrabbits, winners of the Summit League autobid, took on Baylor, conference tournament runners up in the Big 12 (10).
A large, boisterous traveling party made the trip from Brookings, South Dakota down to Albuquerque, some 1,100 miles down I-25 and they made their presence felt early as the Jackrabbits, true to their moniker, sprung out to a quick 8-0 lead behind a deuce and a pair of threes.
South Dakota State had all the pieces necessary for a team hoping to spring the upset, a prolific scorer in Nate Wolter, a team full of good three point shooters and more than anything, they had a belief that they could win. Their lead swelled to a dozen points, 19-7, through the first seven minutes of the game. Unfortunately, much like another story involving a fast rabbit, slow and steady usually wins this race and that was the case as the Bears came storming back thanks to a 17-3 run.
The Jackrabbits only scored nine more points in the final 13 minutes of the first half compared to Baylor's 29 points over that same time span. It amounted to a 36-28 halftime lead. Baylor held leads of 11 with eight and a half minutes left, 10 with five and half minutes left and 10 with just under four minutes left. The combination of Baylor's size underneath and in particular Perry Jones III was a little more than the Jackrabbits could handle. Perry had 11 rebounds, three of them offensive boards. Even though Jones only had two points, his teammates Brady Heslip (5-of-10 from three, 17 points) and Pierre Jackson (6-of-11 from the field, 18 points) more than made up for the inconspicuous absence of the scoring from Acy and Jones III.
Much like the fable of the Tortoise and the Hare, the Jackrabbits made one final push at the end, Griffan Callahan hit a three with 2:28 left and Chad White hit a three with 1:13 left to cut Baylor's lead to four at 64-60 but a missed three from Brayden Carlson that would have cut Baylor's lead to one with under 30 seconds left did not connect and South Dakota State had to play the foul game. South Dakota State wouldn't score again while the Bears would go 4-for-4 from the stripe to seal the win.
The Jackrabbits' leading scorer was Nate Wolters, just like he had been all season long. He finished with 19 points but just a 1-for-6 performance from deep and SDSU was just 10-for-30, slightly below their season average of 39 percent. Had they made those two extra three point buckets to meet their season average, they may very well have won the game.
One of the other fun parts things about the NCAA Tournament is that every team travels their band, cheerleaders and mascot. The Jackrabbits' mascot, named Jack Rabbit, reminded me of another famous gray and white bunny. Unfortunately this night there would be no chance for a left turn at Albuquerque.
BAYLOR 68, SOUTH DAKOTA STATE 60 03/15/2012
SOUTH DAKOTA STATE 27-8 (15-3) -- G. Callahan 2-6 1-4 7; B. Carlson 3-8 2-2 9; N. Wolters 7-13 4-6 19; C. White 5-12 0-0 15; J. Dykstra 2-7 0-0 5; T. Fiegen 1-2 0-0 2; M. Heemstra 0-0 0-0 0; T. Prince 1-2 1-2 3. Totals 21-50 8-14 60.
BAYLOR 28-7 (12-6) -- B. Heslip 5-10 2-2 17; P. Jones III 1-6 0-3 2; P. Jackson 6-11 4-5 18; A. Walton 1-6 0-0 2; Q. Miller 4-9 2-2 10; Q. Acy 2-2 0-0 4; D. Bello 0-3 4-6 4; A. Jones 4-5 2-2 11. Totals 23-52 14-20 68.
Three-point goals: SDST 10-30 (G. Callahan 2-6; N. Wolters 1-6; B. Carlson 1-4; C. White 5-9; J. Dykstra 1-5), BAY 8-20 (A. Jones 1-2; B. Heslip 5-10; D. Bello 0-1; P. Jackson 2-6; Q. Miller 0-1); Rebounds: SDST 17 (T. Fiegen 5), BAY 31 (P. Jones 11); Assists: SDST 16 (T. Fiegen 5), BAY 9 (A. Walton 3); Total Fouls -- SDST 17, BAY 16; Fouled Out: SDST-G. Callahan; BAY-None.