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Coo Cruise To 4-0 With Big Win Over Upper Iowa

USF men finish weekend sweep with 87-76 victory
Published: Jan. 9, 2021 at 11:28 PM CST
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - For the second time in three years, the (RV) USF Men’s Basketball Team (4-0, 2-0 NSIC), led by a double double from Teathloach Pal, has opened their season going 4-0 as they outscored the nation’s top scoring team, Upper Iowa (2-2, 0-2 NSIC), 87-76, to sweep the weekend series at the Stewart Center. 

With the victory, USF, the defending NSIC South champions, sit 2-0 in South Division play but with a 4-0 record are percentage points ahead of 3-1 Minnesota State at the top of the standings.

The Cougars, which returned all five starters this year from the 2019-20 NSIC South champions, have leaned on their senior All-NSIC forward Teathloach Pal, who has opened the 2020-21 season with four straight games in double-digit scoring and today notched a double figure game in rebounds. With 22 points and 11 rebounds, the senior forward has 15 career double-doubles. His contributions were key as the Cougars fought off an early UIU surge, and after the game was tied at half, outscored UIU, 48-37, in the second half to pick up the win.

With the wins over UIU, the Cougars have now tied the all-time series with the Peacocks at 9-9. 

Junior guard Troy Houghton had another impressive night, contributing 17 points and three rebounds in his 27 minutes. With his 12th double-digit scoring game, Houghton had 36 points this weekend. Tonight, he was 8-of-12 from the floor and hit 15-of-25 shots this weekend, most on drives to the basket. Sophomore guard Jack Thompson, who hit a half-court shot at the end of the first half to forge a 39-39 tie, had 15 points, four rebounds, four assists, and four steals in 33 minutes.  Freshman guard Jake Kettner had a career-high for a second straight night with 13 points, adding two boards and an assist.  

Following the game, USF Head Coach Chris Johnson, who recorded his 237th career victory, including the 221st at USF, was happy with the team’s 4-0 start. He noted the standout performances by not only Pal, but also Houghton, Kettner, and Thompson. 

“I was happy with how we played as we really took care of the ball better,” said Johnson, whose squad scored a season-best 87 points, which was the highest total for the Cougars since last January 25 (87-85 OT win over Winona State). “We only had 11 turnovers tonight compared to last night’s 20 which helped. Troy (Houghton) and Jake (Kettner) really got us going and then Jack (Thompson) had a few big plays down the stretch.”

Johnson also said Pal’s performance is one of his best at USF.

“I thought tonight’s effort was one of the better games Teathloach Pal has played in a Cougar uniform. I mean, 22 points and 11 rebounds really affected the game a lot,” said Johnson, whose team is scheduled to travel to Winona State on Jan. 15-16.

After the Peacocks and Cougars traded leads in the first half the Peacocks closed on an 8-0 run to take a 39-36 lead with just seconds left in the half. Then, Thompson stepped up with his career-long heave. The three-pointer from beyond half court tied the game at the break and provided important momentum for the Cougars. 

“Just like you draw it up, right?” said Johnson. “Give up an 8-0 run at the end of the half and then have Jack throw in a 65 footer at the buzzer. But we thought it was a huge play. Going into halftime, it felt like we weathered the storm.” 

On the night, the Cougars hit 36-of-69 from the field for a season-best 52.2 percent. While the Cougars didn’t make a three during the second half, compared to Upper Iowa’s nine, USF was able to hold onto the lead by shooting 60 percent from the field  and grabbing 21 rebounds as opposed to Upper Iowa’s six rebounds in the second half.

The Cougar’s inside play was critical in the high scoring affair. USF had a 44-21 rebound margin which was partly responsible for a 52-8 margin of points in the paint. The USF’s bench again played a key role, outscoring the Peacocks, 20-6. 

“You want to win every one that you play, and 4-0 isn’t going to help you get to 5-0, but it certainly feels good after the first two weekends,” said Johnson. 

USF vs UIU Breakdown 

It was a back-and-forth first half as UIU jumped out to a quick 6-0 lead on three-point artistry. Then, USF took control and had a 23-10 run to take the 23-16 lead at the nine-minute mark. Late in the half, UIU had a 14-7 run to grab a 39-36 lead with just seconds to play in the half. Then, Thompson connected from half court at the buzzer to forge a tie. USF was led by the play of Pal, who had 10 points and seven boards while Kettner chipped in with nine points, including two triples. Lucas Duax had 12 of his game-high 24 points for the Peacocks and Jareese Williams, nine, as he surpassed 1,000 career points. 

In the opening 20 minutes, USF hit 15-of-34 field goals for 44.1 percent and was 5-of-11 for 45.5 percent from three, which is a season-best. USF had a 23-16 advantage on the boards. UIU was 10-of-26 from the field for 38.5 percent and 6-of-14 from three for 42.9 percent. A key difference was at the foul line where UIU was 13-of-15 and USF 4-of-8. UIU’s biggest lead was six early and USF’s largest margin was eight points at the 7:09 mark (27-19).

The second half continued to be a battle of energy. The Peacocks pushed the ball up the court at a high speed and found perimeter shots to their liking while the Cougars worked to slow them down. In the end, it was USF’s shooting inside the three-point arc, which proved the difference.

In the second half, USF hit 21-of-35 for 60.6 percent from the field, while UIU hit just 10-of-23. The Peacocks stayed close by making nine threes in 13 attempts for 69.2 percent. Of special importance was USF’s 34-2 advantage of points in the paint in the second half.

A basket by Pal provided USF with a 53-47 edge at the 14:17 mark of the second half. UIU tied the game at 53 when Joe Smoldt, who scored 20 points, hit a triple. Later Williams scored to give UIU a 56-55 lead, which was their final advantage of the night. USF gradually built the lead back to six points at 66-60 and then held off UIU.

With 2:35 to go, Thompson knocked down two free throws to give the Coo a six-point edge (79-73). At the 1:45 mark, the Peacocks hit a big three (Duax) to bring the Cougar lead back down to five. But, USF had a basket from Thompson, who added two foul shots with 1:09 left for an 85-76 lead. When Pal took a pass from Austin Slater and finished the play with a flush, the game was USF’s.

-RECAP COURTESY USF ATHLETICS

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