The Herd gets a shot at first place in Summit League this weekend
Following a sweep of Denver and Omaha last week on the road, the Bison men’s basketball team returns to the Scheels Center riding a five-game winning streak. With all five wins coming against Summit League opponents, the Bison now sit second in the conference at 5-2. The only team ahead of the Herd is the Oral Roberts Golden Eagles, the team the Bison face off with on Thursday evening. Following that highly anticipated contest, the Kansas City Roos come to town for a Saturday afternoon showdown to wrap up the week.
At the 2021 Summit League Tournament, Oral Roberts broke the hearts of the Bison faithful as they purged a valiant comeback and squeaked by the Bison 75-72 on their way to a Sweet 16 appearance in the NCAA tournament as a 15 seed. The Bison got their revenge last season, beating now sixth-year head coach Paul Mills and the Golden Eagles all three times they played. However, the 2021 NCAA scoring leader Max Abmas is still flying with the Eagles and has led them to a 15-4 record overall and a perfect 6-0 record in conference play.
Abmas is currently leading the Summit League in scoring, averaging 24.5 points per game in conference play and 21.8 overall. Oral Roberts, as a team, has truly dominated the offensive end of the floor all year long, averaging 83.8 points per game. Along with Abmas filling up the stat sheet, the rim protector inside for the Eagles is Arkansas transfer Connor Vanover. The 7 foot 5 inch senior is averaging 3.3 blocks per game to go along with 12.4 points and 6.7 rebounds per game, providing an interesting matchup for Bison big men Andrew Morgan and Grant Nelson.
Through his first eight seasons as head coach of the Bison, David Richman has been very successful against Oral Roberts as he possesses a 15-6 record against ORU including a 10-4 advantage over Mills, winning six of the last eight meetings. The Golden Eagles, however, are flying high at the moment as they’ve won 12 of their last 13 games and have the best player in the conference leading the charge. Holding Abmas under 20 points only has a 25% success rate thus far for North Dakota State and already with three conference games of 30 or more points, the degree of difficulty has risen for the Herd.
However, if there is any time for the Bison to be prepared for the conference leader, it is now. The Bison have won their last five games by an average of nearly
15 points per game and are scoring over 75 points per game during that stretch. Grant Nelson, Boden Skunberg, Andrew Morgan, and Jacari White have all picked up their play since the start of conference play. Nelson is averaging nearly a double-double, Andrew Morgan is shooting 61% from the field, Boden Skunberg is coming off a career-high 25-point performance, and Jacari White has increased his scoring along with locking up defenders.
Along with the task of defending Abmas, White may also be challenged to face the second-leading scoring in the Summit League, RayQuawndis Mitchell of the Kansas City Roos. In spite of a meager 36% shooting percentage, Mitchell is scoring nearly 19 points per game this season. His partner in crime, Shemarri Allen, is right behind him on the scoring list with an average of 16.4 points per contest.
When Kansas City rolls into Fargo on Saturday, they’ll be met by a Bison team that has a bit of a chip on its shoulder. The Roos have beaten the Bison three out of the last four times including an 85-71 victory on NDSU’s senior night last season where they shot an incredible 71% from three. This year’s edition of Kansas City basketball has struggled from three, shooting just 29% from deep. Also, both Oral Roberts and Kansas City have struggled on the road in comparison to home games. The Golden Eagles are a perfect 11-0 at home in the Mabee Center but 4-4 on the road. Similarly, the Roos are an even 4-4 at home but a lousy 1-7 when having to travel.
Another intriguing factor to this week’s games is how the Bison maintain their offensive success against two of the top defenses in the conference. Kansas City and Oral Roberts are first and second respectively in opponent field goal percentage in conference play, both holding their opponents under 40% from the field. If the Bison can’t hit their shots, they’ll need to hit their free throws but currently sit last in the conference in free throw percentage.
With a sweep this weekend, the Bison could potentially move into 1st place in the Summit League with an Oral Roberts loss to North Dakota on Saturday. This week’s slate could determine a lot in the future for tournament seedings meaning the Bison should get a great deal of support at the SHAC each day.
Tipoff from the Scheels Center against Oral Roberts on Thursday will be at 7 p.m. and 1 p.m. against Kansas City on Saturday. Both games will be broadcasted on WDAY Xtra and ESPN+ and can also be found on the radio at 107.9 the Fox. Student tickets are available at GoBison.com/Students.