Sweep improves Summit League record to 3-2
Bison big men lead the way to 65-59 victory over South Dakota State
As we approach the highly anticipated national championship between North Dakota State and South Dakota State on the gridiron Sunday, the two basketball programs had some work to do on the hardwood beforehand. Meeting for the first time since the 2022 Summit League Championship, the Bison pulled away with a six-point victory led by Grant Nelson and Andrew Morgan who combined for 41 points on the night.
Falling behind early, however, was North Dakota State as they trailed 13-5 through the first three minutes and twenty seconds of play. Pacing the way for the Jackrabbits was University of Wisconsin transfer Matthew Mors. A three-time South Dakota Gatorade Player of the Year, Mors showed his value early by hitting each of his first three shots, two of them from deep as he led the Jackrabbits.
Following Mors’ third make of the opening few minutes, he went ice cold going 1-9 from the field for the rest of the game. The Bison would proceed to pull within four points by the time the clock ticked under eight minutes. Shortly after, forward Grant Nelson connected on a back door cut to Boden Skunberg who finished at the rim. Shortly after, another back door connection by Andrew Morgan and Luke Yoder gave North Dakota State their first advantage of the game at 23-21 with 4:34 to go.
As the first half wound to a close, each team remained locked in defensively. The Jackrabbits closed out the half nicely and tied the game at 27. Helping close out the half for SDSU was sophomore guard Zeke Mayo. Mayo, who scored 33 points against Western Illinois a week prior, tallied his first points of the game with 1:21 to go in the half.
“Zeke Mayo is obviously one of the more talented players in the league,” Bison Head Coach David Richman stated. “We talked about it through the week that he was going to get some. He ended up getting 13, but he took 17 shots to get 13.”
Through the first four minutes of the second half, the Bison and Jackrabbits remained tied at 33 apiece. The Bison were led by Andrew Morgan who was just getting going. While Morgan may have been the man for the Herd on Thursday evening, Grant Nelson made a loud impact as well. With just over 12 minutes to play in the half, Nelson drove down the lane and dunked all over the Jackrabbits, sending the crowd into a head-tapping uproar.
“It was incredible,” Andrew Morgan said of the energy the dunk brought. “You could feel it in the arena as soon as he put it down. It gets everybody’s energy up.”
The Jackrabbits would not succumb to the Bison’s momentum and went on an 11-4 run after the Nelson slam. North Dakota State would go on a nice run of their own and in the next two minutes, the trio of Morgan, Nelson, and Skunberg teamed up to tie the game at 48. It was Morgan’s offensive rebounding and finishing that made the difference. Morgan finished with a career-high 24 points and 13 rebounds, eight of those rebounds coming on the offensive glass.
“That’s a big-time game from that young man,” Richman said of Morgan. “I love Andrew. There’s some tremendous challenges with Andrew but there’s some great rewards. I’ll take those challenges any day to experience the rewards of that locker room afterwards with Andrew and our entire team.”
Following the break, the rivals continued their dogfight by exchanging buckets. While Zeke Mayo came alive in the second half scoring 11 points, Nelson was the man for the home representative. First, with a floater in the lane, Nelson then splashed a long ball in front of his team’s bench to give them a 56-54 lead with 3:44 to go.
The battle persisted but the Bison held their slim advantage at 60-59 following a dunk by SDSU’s William Kyle III with under a minute to play. Nelson responded out of the timeout with a beautiful spin move and finish and NDSU led 62-59. Although Mayo tried to respond, he couldn’t finish through the contact and the Bison secured the rebound. Nelson and Jacari White combined to go 3-4 at the charity stripe and sealed the 65-59 victory.
“Really pleased,” Richman said of the win. “I’ve got a ton of respect for that program obviously just the way they do things. They do things the right way.”
The Bison improved to 2-2 in Summit League play and 5-11 overall while defeating the Jackrabbits for just the third time in the last 14 matchups.
“Big picture it’s just another win in conference play which we needed,” Nelson claimed. “Moving forward we’re going to continue to do what we did tonight; stay locked in for 40.”
Andrew Morgan; 24 Pts 13 Reb 10-15 FG; Grant Nelson; 17 Pts 8 Reb
Dominant second half leads Bison over Coyotes 73-61
Following arguably their best win of the season on Thursday evening over South Dakota State, the Bison returned to the floor for a Saturday matinee with South Dakota. Despite only scoring 25 points in the first half, the Herd rolled to their third straight win behind a dominant second half where the Bison outscored the Coyotes 48-28 and shot 56% from the field.
In the first half of play, the Bison soared out to a 12-2 lead and continued to hold that lead for a good chunk of the half. However, Kruz Perrott-Hunt, South Dakota’s leading scorer, flipped it around for his squad. Perrott-Hunt scored 19 of his game-high 26 points in the first half and was a huge part in the Coyotes’ 12-0 run to end the half. As the first half came to a close, 1st-year head coach Eric Peterson’s squad led 33-25 largely thanks to their accuracy from deep, shooting 56%.
The second half, however, was the polar opposite of the first half. North Dakota State was lethal from everywhere with shooting percentages of 56/44/78 while holding the opposition to 30% shooting in the final twenty minutes. The Bison also confined Perrott-Hunt to just seven points in the second half.
Right out of the gate, Jacari White pulled the Bison back in reach as he hit two consecutive long balls within one minute of the break. The Coyotes didn’t break down, however, as they pushed out to a 52-46 lead with 10:20 remaining in the game.
North Dakota State controlled the rest of the game from there. Following a bucket from South Dakota’s A.J. Plitzuweit, the Bison trailed 59-58 with only five minutes and 17 seconds remaining. Damari Wheeler-Thomas, who scored 15 of his career-high 17 points in the second half, including a 9-10 showing from the free throw line, played a key role for the Bison the rest of the way. Wheeler-Thomas, Boden Skunberg, and Grant Nelson were the ones to take charge down the home stretch. Already leading 68-59, Lance Waddles put the nail in the coffin. Skunberg launched a pass ahead to Waddles who slammed the ball home with authority. A succession of free throws closed out the game for NDSU’s third straight victory and fifth consecutive against the Coyotes.
The twenty-point second-half scoring differential is the highest against any Division I opponent this year for North Dakota State. The Bison committed just seven turnovers on the day and shot 45% from the field while holding South Dakota to 37% from the field and forcing 11 turnovers.
North Dakota State will be back on the floor next Thursday at 8 p.m. when they hit the road to take on Denver. Shortly after, the Bison will zip over to Nebraska to play Omaha at noon on Saturday, January 14.
Jacari White; 18 Pts 5-9 3P 2 Blk; Damari Wheeler-Thomas; 17 Pts 6 Reb
Grant Nelson; 15 Pts 5 Reb 6-10 FG; Boden Skunberg 12 Pts 4 Reb 3 Assts