Iowa City, IA — The South Dakota State Jackrabbits ensured that the Hawkeyes had their work cut out for them in the final game of the Hawkeye Challenge on Sunday afternoon. But SDSU’s feared “Miss Basketball,” Macy Miller, redeemed her crown on the court by leading her team to a buzzer beater victory of 64-62.
With a stellar 27-win season and the 12th seed in the NCAA tournament last year, the Jackrabbits posed a maniacal threat to the Hawkeyes so far flawless season. Conquering the South Dakota superpower would’ve made Iowa the champions and satisfied their hunger of winning a championship.
However, from the start, the Jackrabbits played to the Hawkeyes defensive weaknesses to get an early lead. Miller brought her relentlessness underneath the boards as she pulled down five boards and scored 14 of her team's first-half points. SDSU's Kerri Young also swished in two three-pointers for the team, as Iowa struggled to stay within 10 points of the opponent ending the half 38-25.
“The first half, […] I don't think we made South Dakota State work on defense,” Iowa Head Coach Lisa Bluder said. “I thought we were taking shots that we just don't usually take, and that was a little bit of inexperience, kind of getting rattled and thinking, you've got to bring them back in one shot. We know it's a long game you and don't do that.”
The third quarter remained an effort to shut down Miller's fire, as the Hawkeyes second unit tried to extinguish her flame with their own counters with points from Kathleen Doyle and Hannah Stewart.
However, it wasn’t just Miller who kept the offense going for South Dakota State. Ellie Thompson and Clarissa Ober were the leading scorers of the quarter, and their offensive prowess could not be contained by the young players of Iowa, leaving the Hawkeyes down by 13 going into the final quarter.
“Yeah, and I think you saw an experienced team kind of beat up on an inexperienced team today,” Bluder said. “I thought our freshmen kind of struggled being that situation, and I know that they are better than what they showed today. They will learn from this and be more prepared the next time.”
Despite SDSU’s continuous lead, the Hawkeyes were out for blood in the fourth quarter. The Ally Disterhoft, Tania Davis, and Megan Gustafson trifecta propelled Iowa to a tie game after a three-pointer by Davis, a layup by Disterhoft and an aggressive inside shot by Gustafson with only five seconds on the clock. Despite the Carver-Hawkeye Arena shaking with anticipation of an overtime showdown, the star Jackrabbit had other plans.
With only four seconds remaining Miller knocked in a jump shot to leave the Hawkeyes speechless, taking the gold straight from their hands.
SDSU Head Coach Aaron Johnston applauded Miller’s performance.
“Even the play at the end, there was some contact during the drive—not foul, but contact that could’ve taken someone out of sync or rhythm but she was pretty composed rising up and making that shot,” he said.
Miller received the award for MVP of the Hawkeye Challenge tournament, and understandably so. The wrecking ball achieved a double-double with 10 rebounds and 22 of her team’s total points.
If teams nationwide are worried about anything standing in their way of a spot in the NCAA tournament, Miller should be on that list.
“She’s got the ability to make threes, she’s got the ability to get to the basket, we just want her to continue to be a force in the game,” Johnston said. “Defensively, rebounding we can work on a little bit more, she sets an offensive threat, but there’s other parts of her game that she can continue to get better on. “
Gustafson also achieved her 12th double-double.
“I think it was really good to go up against someone who was stronger, but I think overall as a team it was a good learning experience just because we’re not used to having the other team go on a run right away,” Gustafson said.
While the post scored double digits alongside Disterhoft, it wasn’t enough to take the win. Thus, if the Hawkeyes hope to see the light of the NCAA tournament, Bluder says they have work to do against stronger teams.
“We have some great opponents coming up, and we can't dwell on this one. We have got to move forward. We're playing No. 9 UCLA, No. 1 Notre Dame coming up here,” she said. “So definitely we have a tough schedule, but the problem is, is it's not one thing just to play a tough schedule. You do have to win some.”
The Hawkeyes play UCLA next on Thursday, Nov. 24 in the 2016 Cancun Challenge in Riviera Maya, Mexico.