SIOUX FALLS, S.D. -- The last time South Dakota State got IPFW inside its state borders, the Jackrabbits shot 56 percent in the first half, outrebounded the Mastodons 42-30 and buried them by 28 points.
Lousy host, meet lousy guest.
In a Summit League semifinal that was five parts grit to one part artistry, Mo Evans scored 18 points and stuck six 3-pointers, IPFW made 14 steals at the other end to overcome 40.7 percent shooting (24-of-59), and the Mastodons held off the Jackrabbits down the stretch to run them out of the tournament, 64-60.
"We felt like this was a road game, and we felt we owed them one," said IPFW guard Pierre Bland, who scored a dozen points, dished five assists, took four rebounds and made three steals. "So tonight we showed we could stay together and that’s what we planned on doing. We had the whole team together in the locker room and that’s what we did tonight."
It led to another historic moment in a historic season for the Mastodons (24-9), who beat South Dakota State (19-12) on its home ground for the first time since 2010 and reached the tournament championship game for the first time in four visits to the semifinals.
They’ll play top-seeded North Dakota State, an 83-48 winner over Denver in the other semifinal, at 9 p.m. Tuesday for the title and the automatic NCAA tournament berth.
"Obviously, that was a big win for our program," IPFW coach Tony Jasick said. "I think it’s big, no question, because it gives us the opportunity to play for the ultimate goal. I’m proud of our guys for their effort tonight, and now we give ourselves a chance to compete for what we all want to compete for."
Before they could do that, thought, the first had to weather the storm that is South Dakota State in Sioux Falls Arena. And Evans was their rain gear.
In the first half, IPFW first rode him to a 30-24 lead that pretty much belonged to Evans alone. He went 5-of-5 from the 3-point line and 5-of-6 overall on his way to scoring exactly half the Mastodons’ points, and IPFW needed every one as everyone else shot a dismal 6-of-23 and no one else scored more than four points.
But Evans was enough.
He splashed four 3s in just over three minutes to turn a one-point game into a 25-15 lead at the 6:27 mark, then airmailed another to give the Mastodons a second 10-point lead, 30-20, with 1:47 to play in the half. That helped the Dons over a four-minute drought that enabled South Dakota State to stick around -- which the Jackrabbits did, scoring the first nine points of the second half to put the Mastodons in their wake and turn the game into a slugfest.
Ultimately, it was a sixth Evans 3 that pushed IPFW back in front 50-43 with 8:28 to play, and the Jackrabbits never got even again, thanks in large part to 18 turnovers and those 14 steals, which IPFW turned into 22 points at the other end.
"I thought that really got us out," Jasick said. "We got some easy baskets, I thought we put them a little on their heels in transition defense a little bit, and, for us, that’s clearly where we’re at our best is when we’re in the open floor."
Or at the 3-point line, at least if you were Evans.
"No, that was after maybe the third one," he said, when asked if he felt it was going to be one of those nights after his first make. "I was just glad I had my teammates and they put me in a position to make some plays."
And then some.