FAYETTEVILLE – It’s not often that a college basketball team will travel across the country during the middle of the night to play back-to-back games, but that’s just what South Dakota State has already done this week.
The Jackrabbits rallied late to down St. Bonaventure 66-62 Tuesday afternoon in Sioux Falls, made the short trip home to its campus in Brookings and then boarded a flight and got to Fayetteville way after midnight.
The result was No. 9 Arkansas downing South Dakota State 71-56 in a game that Razorbacks led by as many as 27 points at Bud Walton Arena.
Still well worth the trip according to Jackrabbits’ head coach Eric Henderson, whose 2-2 team shot 32 percent from the field, 19 percent from 3-point range and had 20 turnovers.
“Now that was a long trip and we got in late, late, late last night,” Henderson said. “But it actually worked out well. We got in some film sessions this morning and got in a shoot around and our guys are young, they are resilient and they were ready to roll.
“Just to have that opportunity to play against a Top 10 team in the country with all the talent they have, it was pretty special.
Henderson is 69-24 in his fourth season at South Dakota State, who went 30-5 last season with a 21-game wining streak to end the season over its Summit League foes and were in the NCAA Tournament before losing to Providence 66-57 in the opening round.
He was excited to match up with Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman, who has led the Razorbacks the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight the last two seasons.
“I have a lot of respect for what Coach Musselman does and this program,” Henderson said. “They play with great tenacity and that’s what we pride ourselves on, too. It is a different style, but we want to play with tenacity.”
South Dakota State cut a 10-point lead down to 31-27 with 2:29 left in the first half.
That prompted Musselman’s first timeout of the season and a 10-2 run by Razorbacks to end the first half.
Arkansas (3-0) than opened the second half on an 11-1 run to take a 52-28 and cruised the victory from that point.
“It got stretched out there a little bit and you have just got to give credit to them,” Henderson said. “Their tenacity on the defensive end is real. Their length, that is probably about as long of a team that I have seen and they can raked and get hands on the basketball more than any team we have ever played since I have been here.
“You have got to give them credit, but we are also a work in progress and we talked about this last night, even after a win, we are still trying to find our identity a little bit. Teams are trying to get us out of rhythm and Arkansas is obviously really good at doing that.”
The Razorbacks shot 45.9 percent (21 of 68) from the field, 31.8 percent (7 of 22) from 3-point range and 8 of 15 from the free throw line.
“Arkansas made some shots hat tonight they had not been making the first two games – some tough mid-range jumpers – and they went in, got some confidence,” Henderson said. “We needed them to miss a few of those and us get the rebound and get a little bit more flow.”
The Razorbacks also had 20 turnovers, but had a 42-32 rebound advantage.
“Like I told the guys in the locker room, we have expectations to win every time we stop on the floor,” Henderson said. “So we were not happy with the outcome, but what the most important thing is how are we going to grow from this. This team has a lot of areas that not can grow in.
“We need to continue to do that during the early part of this year.”
South Dakota State’s first true home game will be Saturday against Stephen F. Austin.
“We had great support last night at the Pentagon (Arena) and we are thankful for our fans and it is such a great atmosphere, but there is nothing like Frost Arena. So to get back in there and play in front of our people – for really the first time other than our exhibition game – has our guys fired up.
“It is going to be a heck of a game because we beat Stephen F. Austin down there last year and they are going to be chomping at the bit to knock us on the chin.
“We are going to have to take a couple of punches and be able to rock and roll and I know our guys will.”