The North Dakota State men’s basketball team appeared to have a food hangover throughout their last two games. A two-game post-Thanksgiving road trip saw the Bison get beat twice. A cross-country trip complicated matters, as NDSU went from Tennessee to Washington in short order.
The Bison found themselves down early against the East Tennessee State Buccaneers. After a late first half run, the Bucs found themselves with a solid 39-27 lead. A second half surge by Bison freshman Jarius Cook brought the Bison within seven, but that’s the closest they would get. An 11-3 ETSU run put the game away, as the Bison ultimately fell 79-61.
Rocky Kreuser led the Bison with 13 points on the night, followed by 11 from Tyson Ward and a career-high 10 from Cook, who came off the bench.
NDSU’s struggle from behind the arc versus the Bucs’ success was key to the Bison defeat. The Bison launched 33 shots from deep compared to 20 by ETSU, but the teams matched in 3-pointers made with 9 apiece. The Bucs also dominated on the glass, out-rebounding the Bison by 14.
Just two days after the loss to ETSU, the Bison were set to take on the Gonzaga Bulldogs, the top-ranked team in the nation. Taking on Gonzaga is a tall task for any team, but for a team with little veteran experience that also just had to travel from Tennessee to Spokane, Washington on only one day rest, it is especially difficult.
Add to that the Zags were coming off a win over former No. 1 Duke to take the top spot in the AP Top 25 Poll.
NDSU’s matchup with Gonzaga was the second time in history the Bison had squared off against the No. 1 ranked team in the land. The Herd looked for more success this time around after their 26-point loss to the Indiana Hoosiers back in 2012. However, those hopes were quickly squashed.
After an early 19-18 lead for the Bison, Gonzaga rattled off 19 straight points to put the game away early. The Bulldogs shot a blazing 64 percent from the field, cruising to a 102-60 victory. The spread for the game was 26.5 points in favor of Gonzaga. That mark was surpassed by the end of the first half.
The Bison would have needed to play nearly flawless to have any chance against Mark Few’s Bulldogs, but they just weren’t. The Bison shot an abysmal 14 percent from the 3-point line and never got into any sort of rhythm. Gonzaga played the part of the playground bully to the Bison all night long.
Despite the loss, being on the same floor of the best team of the nation has its positives. For starters, taking some lumps early, especially in non-conference play, can be a fantastic experience for young teams. The Bison do not have a single senior on their roster, which gives some underclassmen the chance to step into leadership roles. Growing pains are tough, but necessary for teams hoping to contend for a conference title not just this year, but years following. Teams also learn more from failure than success. Failure gives the Bison something to work from and improve on as the season rolls along.
The Summit League tends to be a grind, and South Dakota State was a team that hung with Gonzaga a few years back in the NCAA Tournament.
The Bison will now head into the U.S. Bank Stadium Basketball Classic to take on the 3-1 Drake Bulldogs. Drake gives the Bison a chance to get right before Summit League play kicks off.