SIOUX FALLS — The University of South Dakota men’s basketball team knew they would need to command the possession game to come away with a season opening win against Air Force Thursday in the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, and they did just that.

“We were plus-17 in the possession game,” USD head coach Todd Lee said. “We had 13 offensive rebounds, they had one. We turned it over 12 times, they turned it over 17 times, so 17 extra possessions was big.”

The Coyotes defeated Air Force 59-53 in both teams’ season opener on Veterans Day in the Pentagon. Both offenses struggled to find the bottom of the net in the first half. With less than four minutes to play, the Coyotes led 18-14.

Kruz Perrott-Hunt exploded in the final three minutes, getting to 10 points at halftime and forced a late Air Force turnover on a charge. The Coyotes led 32-22 going into the intermission.

“I think that we were getting stops and that translated to our offense,” Perrott-Hunt said. “That’s what we pride ourselves on.”

The Coyote lead continued to grow early in the second half, building to 14 at the under-12 media timeout. The Coyote offense started to slump from there.

From the 11:33 mark to the seven-minute mark of the second half, the Coyotes didn’t score a point. The lead was cut in half from a 46-32 lead to a 46-39 lead.

USD pushed the lead back out to nine at 50-41 with four minutes left, but went cold again in the final four minutes, opening the door for a Falcon comeback.

A.J. Walker hit a three-point shot with 18 seconds left to cut the USD lead down to two at 55-53. On the inbound play for USD, Mason Archambault was fouled, giving him two free throws on the other end.

Archambault hit both, and after a missed shot by Walker, Erik Oliver was fouled and he made two free throws to give USD the six-point cushion and the win.

Perrott-Hunt led the Coyotes with 14 points on 6-of-13 shooting. Hunter Goodrick, who played in his first official game since the 2019-20 season, tallied 12 points and eight rebounds.

“It’s awesome, I love having Goodie (Goodrick) back and he’s a great asset to our team,” Perrott-Hunt said. “It’s great to have that kind of versatility to put him into the four, the five, and it’s just really good to have him back.”

Archambault finished with 11 points and Xavier Fuller nine. Oliver’s first official game with the Coyotes saw him finish with five points off the bench.

USD outrebounded Air Force 37-27, with 13 of the 37 boards coming on the offensive end. Goodrick and Tasos Kamateros both started the game for USD, giving them extra size inside.

The Coyote offense had three players in double figures and Fuller finished one point shy of that mark. Balance is something Lee wants to see from his offense going forward, he said.

“We’ve talked about it as a group, as a team, we’re going to be balanced this year,” Lee said. “I don’t think we will have guys that have bigger nights for the most part, which can be a strength if you have five, six guys that can score 10, 12, 14 points each.”

The Coyotes struggled to win early last season, knowing there would be growing pains with a young team. Getting the first win of the season in the first game was a big step for the 2021-22 team.

It was very important to win a neutral site game against a Mountain West team, a well coached team,” Lee said. “That carries on playing Drake, who could be the favorite to win the Missouri Valley.”

Lee and the Coyotes travel to face Drake Sunday in Des Moines.

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