South Dakota men’s basketball forward Damani Hayes was supposed to be out for another four weeks, but he wasn’t going to let that happen.
By the time conference play began, it had already been a tumultuous season for the 6-foot-6 forward. He broke his toe in a weightlifting accident early in the season – keeping him out for four weeks – and he was hurt like everyone else on the team when the Coyotes missed nearly two weeks of play. workouts due to a COVID-19 outbreak.
So when he broke his thumb in practice early in the new year, it seemed like another hit in a disappointing season. But not for him – he was going to play through this.
“He said, ‘Tie it up with duct tape and put a splint on it. I will play tomorrow,’” USD head coach Todd Lee said. “So that’s the kind of kid he is.”
Since then, Hayes has been a revelation for a South Dakota team (18-11, 11-7 Summit) that has finally found its stride after a season filled with obstacles. He remains on the bench, but has played more than 20 minutes in each of his last six games in relief from Hunter Goodrick due to Hayes’ propensity to be a matchup problem no matter the size of the individual in front. from him.
He’s too fast for big forwards, too strong for small forwards, can guard on the perimeter or down low. Along with Boogie Anderson, Hayes is one of the latest additions to the rotation’s vanguard who has transformed a Coyotes defense that started the year underperforming.
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Lee said Hayes isn’t a different player than he was at the start of the year, but since working on finishing layups at a higher rate and converting his free throws, he’s become more and more difficult to take off.
“He’s one of those players that nobody likes to play against, but they really respect them,” Lee said. “He’s going to dive to the ground, he’s going to take control, he’s going to get offensive rebounds. He’s got possession of the ball for us, and he’s a really good defender.”
Men’s Basketball 2021-22 USD is all about offense. This surprises even Lee.
This season was supposed to be all about defense.
After losing their two leading scorers in Stanley Umude (transfer to Arkansas) and AJ Plitzuweit (knee injury), defense is what the Coyotes have been repeating over and over again in the preseason. They won’t be able to beat many teams, Lee said. The improvements they made? They worked on the team’s defense, goaltender Kruz Perrott-Hunt said. And keep Xavier Fuller. And striker Tasos Kamateros.
But after a 92-87 win over Oral Roberts, the Coyotes may have been wrong. In fact, they’re not as good defensively as they were a season ago, Lee noted. He thinks it’s because they may have to work harder to get points into the system this year, by exerting more energy on the attacking end.
But the numbers on the offensive side are staggering – the Coyotes have improved despite everything they’ve lost. And after starting the season with no clear “closer”, ahead of the Summit League tournament, they could have three: Perrott-Hunt, Mason Archambault and Kamateros.
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“My assistants are analytical guys, so they told me in every category we were either the same or better than we were last year offensively,” Lee said. “Which you wouldn’t expect, but in our system guys are getting better.”
Stat shows Coyotes’ stability despite worst memory scrambling losses
After falling more than 20 points behind in the first half against Kansas City and sacrificing a lead of a similar size a few weeks earlier against North Dakota State, a word might come to mind about a Coyotes team that, for the most part, jumped in the second half: inconsistent.
But Lee disagrees. In fact, he pointed to a single statistic that could refute him. In the Summit League this year, only two teams have a perfect record against the bottom half of the conference. Undefeated South Dakota State is one of them. And the Coyotes are the second team.
This not only shows parity in the Summit League bracket heading into the league tournament, but illustrates the Coyotes’ ability to maintain consistency from night to night, picking up wins over teams they should. beat where other teams might falter. due to a bad night of shooting.
“While being able to beat the top half of the league is really important,” Lee said, “I’m really proud that we took care of business against the bottom half of the league.”
Follow Sioux Falls Argus Leader reporter Michael McCleary on Twitter @mikejmccleary.