Auburn Hills, MI
They say all good things must come to an end. Unfortunately for the South Dakota State University men's basketball team, the end of the season was Thursday night.
The Jackrabbits fell to the University of Michigan Wolverines 71 to 56, but received handshakes from their opponents as they exited the hardwood for one last time this year. The loss marked the second consecutive year for the Jackrabbits to lose their opening game of the NCAA Tournament.
"I feel bad for the kids. They're very frustrated by it because it is so difficult to get here and they know it," Head Coach Scott Nagy said.
"We played hard last year, we played hard again this year but it would have been better coming away with a win," junior guard Brayden Carlson said.
Carlson led the Jacks with 20 points. That was one bright spot in Thursday's game. Despite disappointment, members of the team say the future for the squad is bright.
Senior Nate Wolters ended his record setting career in the losing effort.
"This career has gone better than I could have ever expected. Successful wise, team wise, so I mean the program is on the rise and will continue to get better," Wolters said.
"Coach Nagy went through the bottom of the valley, now we've kind of got him on the way back to the top and I'm just glad to be a part of that," senior Tony Fiegen said.
"I am more proud of Tony and Nate, not because they're basketball players and what they did on the basketball court, but because of the men that they are," Nagy said.
Nagy adds that it's now up to the rest of the team to keep their growing success on track. And while their exit from the dance was earlier than many had hoped, players couldn't help but thank those who supported them all season long.
"Thank you to all the Jackrabbit fans. We really appreciate your support and the numbers you got up here this weekend," Jordan Dykstra said.
"The support that we received this year is second to none. It was consistent the entire year. I had never played in front of a sellout crowd, but we did a couple times this year and I'm so very blessed to have such a supporting cast and my teammates and the support we get is something that makes this experience for me and the team really memorable," Fiegen said.
And those are memories the players say will fuel their desire when next season tips off.