Last Dome game

The USD men’s basketball team played its last home game on Saturday with the contest ending up being another in a series with frustrating outcomes. The Coyotes were 4-4 in the Summit League after winning on the road at Oakland on Jan. 19. Included among the four conference losses were a last-second 73-71 defeat against Western Illinois at the DakotaDome, a 90-86 loss to Kansas City and a 62-60 loss at Fort Wayne. If anything, the 4-4 mark at that point was misleadingly poor. USD easily could have been 6-2 with some luck.

The problems since then have alternated between difficulties on defense and difficulties on offense with one or the other or both being sub-par enough on a given night to create a six-game losing streak. If you’d have asked me back in January whether this team would exceed last year’s conference win total I’d said it was a foregone conclusion, even with two fewer Summit games on the schedule. Now, matching last year’s five-win effort is going to be difficult — the Coyotes, after playing the BracketBuster game at Montana State on Sunday, will be playing at IUPUI and Western Illinois the following week.

Just as was the case last season, the absence of a second inside scoring threat in addition to Trevor Gruis – someone who can also rebound and defend at the level Ricardo Andreotti did last year   has made every single thing the Coyotes try to do seem a little more difficult. That includes getting open for inside and outside shots, staying out of foul trouble, rebounding on both ends, defending post players, etc. — you name it, having just one big guy who is ready for 30 + minutes of Summit ball often ends up giving the opposition an advantage in several categories that appear in the boxscore.

A conference tournament is a blessing for a team having a season like the Coyotes are having. With the exception of NDSU, they’ve played every other league team pretty tough at least once. Throw in the local fan base that will show up for an opening game at the Arena and there’s no reason to believe USD couldn’t put in a strong first-round effort, even if they go into the event with the same four Summit wins they have now.

I don’t see the team practice every day, or put the players through weekly psychological examinations, but it seems to me that coaches and players alike are trying very hard to maintain a positive environment as they fight through the final weeks of a season that has had its share of disappointments.

Throughout the season I’ve been impressed with the emotional makeup of guard Juevol Myles. Here’s a guy who grew up near Toronto (the one in Canada, not the one in Deuel County) and is at his third school. If there ever was someone who might not be bleeding red and white at this point in the season, it would be someone like Myles, who has no ties to the area.

Yet at postgame press conferences this year, many of which have included questions where players have to re-hash disheartening details of another game gone bad, Myles has projected both pain and resolve. There is genuine frustration at what just happened, and a genuine commitment to going out on the court next time fully expecting things will be better.

Myles had to sit out last season as a practice player who couldn’t play in games because he transferred from Kansas State. He is already has a degree from USD and will depart from the program appearing to be one who has embraced as much of the school and the program as he possibly could given the comparatively short time-frame involved.

Saturday night, he and Jordan Boots were the lone seniors playing their last home game, which meant there would a little ceremony prior to tip-off with the parents appearing at center court. It happens every season at every school so there is nothing inherently unique about it, other than in this case Coach Dave Boots was one of the fathers on the court.

It can be an emotional experience for kids and parents. You could definitely pick up on that from Myles as he stood out there next to his mom with an applauding crowd that had see him play just one season.

“I’ve never ever experienced what I experienced in the first part of that game,” Myles said after the 64-51 loss to Fort Wayne. “I’m a big family person and seeing my mom almost in tears, with my father figure there, too. I was a little messed up – I was taken aback. It was like ‘Wow, this is really my last home game. It went by so fast.’”

He continued:

“I want to say thank you to the fans. It’s been fun  here. I will never forget what they did for me, especially Nancy. I want you to know that Nancy has been like a grandmother/friend to me. I really want to say thanks to her tonight.”

“Nancy” is Dr. Nancy McCahren, a  USD graduate who has served as an English professor, alumni director and in several other positions of leadership within the school spanning more than four decades. Now retired, she’s at courtside for just about every home game.

Myles took the time at a press conference after a loss, in front of half-a-dozen media people, to give her a shout-out, so there must be something to it. Being witness to gratitude expressed by college athletes is not unusual but it is always refreshing.