The Bison face SDSU next in Sioux Falls
After a pair of wins at home last weekend, the Bison entered the Summit League tournament as the #3 seed and took on the #6 seed South Dakota Coyotes. The Coyotes gave the Bison all they could handle, and the game came down to the final stretch in an intense finish.
Each team started with pregame jitters out of the gates as both the Bison and Coyotes had trouble hitting shots in the early stages of the game. Through nearly the first 10 minutes of play, North Dakota State hit just 3 of their first 14 shots from the floor. Despite that, the Coyotes didn’t fare much better as they started just 5-13 from the floor and led by only four at 13-9.
That’s when Boden Skunberg and Grant Nelson took over like Bison fans hoped they would. In just over a minute of action, Skunberg hit a shot with a kiss off the glass and two long threes that quickly gave the Bison a 17-15 lead with nine minutes to play in the half.
South Dakota started to falter a bit as they connected on just one of eight field goals, most of which came during Skunberg’s hot streak. The cold stretch by the Coyotes allowed the Bison to make up some ground and take the lead.
Nelson had a very balanced effort through the first half as he scored 13 points on 5-10 shooting and grabbed 6 rebounds. Nelson also reached a career milestone with 5:44 to go in the half. Down 19-17, Nelson drove past his defender and floated in a bucket with the harm. The subsequent free throw marked the 1,000th point of the junior’s career.
Later in the half, South Dakota tried to stymie the Bison offense with a 2-3 zone, but it only helped the Herd. Skunberg immediately hit a floater to reach double figures, Andrew Morgan got an easy bucket on the block and Nelson feasted with a pair of buckets in the paint, including a nice shot off the window for NDSU’s final points of the half.
USD’s A.J. Plitzuweit’s jumper bounced off the iron as the horn sounded and the Herd went to the locker room with a 33-25 lead. Nelson and Skunberg combined for 23 of North Dakota State’s 33 points in the half, but Andrew Morgan and Jacari White made solid contributions as well with a combined 9 points and 8 rebounds.
Despite just 38/27/80 shooting percentages, the Herd held a lead while holding USD to 36% shooting and their second-leading scorer Tasos Kamateros to just two points.
The competitive nature of the first half was just a glimpse of what was to come in a thrilling final 20 minutes. South Dakota came out on fire and in less than eight minutes had taken the lead. Through the first four minutes, the Coyotes had already trimmed their deficit down to two at 40-38 after a 10-3 run. A few short minutes later, A.J. Plitzuweit nailed a three with 12:26 to play and just like that, the Bison were behind 45-44.
After a slow first half, Kamateros came up big in half number two. An early nine points in the first 12 minutes, along with seven from Kruz Perrott-Hunt, led the Coyotes. Through the first 10 minutes of the half, South Dakota shot better than 60% and was 13-20 from the field at the third media timeout with 7:38 to play. However, they clung to just a one-point lead, 55-54.
“At halftime, it was like ‘guys we’re going to start making some shots’,” South Dakota Head Coach Eric Peterson stated. “We did and came storming back in the second half and took the lead.”
The back-and-forth battles continued and NDSU continued to draw fouls and go to the line. The Bison made 16 second-half free throws but missed seven. While they were under 70% from the line, Grant Nelson’s ability to get there kept the Herd in the game. Nelson finished the day with 23 points with 10 coming in the second half. From the field, he was just 1-5 but hit 8 of 10 from the charity stripe in the second half.
A pair of Nelson free throws to give him 500 points on the season and a baby-hook jumper with 10:21 to go gave the Bison a 50-48 lead. South Dakota would then make a charge by way of a 15-9 run led by a number of Coyote players and led 63-59 with 4:31 to play.
“Eric made some great adjustments in the second half,” Bison Head Coach David Richman stated. “They were really aggressive offensively so give them credit.”
South Dakota maintained that slim margin over the next two minutes and kept it to three at 67-64 after a circus shot by Plitzuweit found the bottom of the net. The Herd responded quickly thanks to Tajavis Miller who went into full takeover mode. With 2:16 to play, the true freshman nailed a three in the eyes of his defender to tie the game. The game remained tied for the next minute until Eric Peterson called a timeout with 1:14 to play.
Perrott-Hunt then gave the Coyotes a brief 68-67 advantage with 56.2 seconds to play after baiting Miller into a foul. Thankfully for the Herd, Perrott-Hunt missed his team’s first free throw of the game to keep the margin at one.
The Bison looked to respond, but Jacari White’s heavily contested jumper fell short and into the arms of his opponent. South Dakota committed their biggest blunder of the game shortly after when Perrott-Hunt threw the ball over the head of Kamateros and out of bounds with 26.2 to play.
After a timeout, Miller put the Bison ahead as he drove through the middle of the lane and floated in a bucket with 15.1 seconds to go giving NDSU a 69-68 lead. Miller finished the day with 12 points, all of which came in the 2nd half.
“It’s great that he could come out there with confidence,” Grant Nelson said of Miller. “That he could come out and make plays on the offensive and defensive end and seal that game for us.”
On the ensuing possession, Miller may have come up with an even bigger play. With about eight seconds to play, Perrott-Hunt found a wide-open Damani Hayes near the basket who went up to send it home. But Miller, along with Boden Skunberg, flew up to reject the shot. Skunberg secured the ball with 4.6 seconds while Eric Peterson was irate in wanting a foul call.
“I don’t just look at that last play,” Peterson said despite some frustration. “I look at the game and how we lost the game within the game.”
Skunberg then went to the line and hit the back end to push the lead to 70-68. A.J. Plitzuweit’s half-court shot was way off and the Bison escaped with a narrow two-point victory.
“The stress that this profession brings, I’m not going to be here for a long time,” Richman stated after the narrow victory. “But that’s perfectly fine.”
The win advances the Bison into the semifinals for the sixth consecutive year where they will face rival South Dakota State. The Bison and Jackrabbits will square off at 8:30 p.m. from the Denny Sanford Premier Center on Monday evening. The game will be broadcasted on Midco and ESPN+ and can be found on the radio at 107.9 The Fox.
“This is about as proud as I’ve been in a group in my tenure,” Richman said frankly. “We’ve got seven guys on this roster that have never been in this building. I’m extremely proud, but we need to flush this one pretty quick. We obviously have a tremendous challenge tomorrow night.”