Zion breaks those brief hopes
The time on the clock reads 15:07. Tyson Ward has just made a layup to put the Bison ahead 12-5. The referee blows his whistle, signaling the first TV timeout.
Folks around the country make jokes about North Dakota State actually winning. Fast forward to 11:18. Rocky Kreuser just scored on an open dunk. NDSU now leads 16-12. Duke fans are confident, but concerned. NDSU fans are happy, but smart enough not to get their hopes up.
Now the clock reads 2:35. Bison point guard Vinnie Shahid is preparing to take his foul shot after getting hammered on a layup. The free throw goes in, as the Herd leads 25-24. Duke fans go from concerned to confused.
The half ends, and Duke leads 31-27. Nobody really knows what to do. Should Duke fans panic? Should NDSU fans just be happy to be there or do they allow themselves to think bigger?
Doesn’t Duke have three potential lottery picks? Isn’t Zion Williamson the best prospect since LeBron James? Could it be that half of America’s brackets will bust in the next 20 minutes? It was wonderful. It was chaotic.
It was a time of hope. Everyone seemed to know Duke would win, yet minds still wondered. It was not just that NDSU had kept it close. It was the manner in which they did it.
Every single starter for the Bison was shorter than the Blue Devil that was guarding them, and yet NDSU was dominating on the boards. It was fascinating to see. “UMBC did it so why can’t we?” some Bison fans may have asked themselves. “It would be the biggest upset in basketball history.” “There’s no way it actually happens.” “It will bust my bracket, but I don’t even care.” “I’ll shave my head if NDSU actually pulls this off.”
The second half begins. The sleeping giant that is Zion Williamson awakens. Less than three minutes into the second half, the Bison find themselves down 13. Hope is dying. “It was fun while it lasted.” At the 15-minute mark, Duke was up 18.
Hope is dead. There would be no upset today. As Duke poured on the points, NDSU fans should not have been upset, and they should not have been mad. Instead, they should have been proud. The Bison went toe to toe with Duke from the opening tip and were not shook.
They refused to be in awe of that fact that they were playing the No. 1 team in the nation. They did not simply bow to the greatness of Zion Williamson. NDSU proved that they belonged and deserved to be the last man standing from the Summit League.
They did not allow themselves to roll over and die like what’s expected of most 16 seeds. The evil empire won in this game, but hey, that’s OK. If the good guy wins every time, then stories start to get boring.
The Blue Devils’ defense was too good. The Blue Devils were too athletic. Zion and R.J. Barrett were too dominant. NDSU could find no lanes and no way to score, as Duke made the NDSU offense look inept at times.
NDSU’s defense didn’t have the size to defend the 6-foot-8 Zion and the 6-foot-7 Barrett.
When the final buzzer sounded, it was 85-62 bad guys. Zion and Barrett finished with 25 and 26 points, respectively. Vinnie Shahid finished with 20. Losing sucks.
Whether it’s a March Madness game, a seventh-grade basketball game or just a game of Monopoly with your siblings, it stings. It will take a while to get over. This time next year Zion and Barrett will be gone, trying to make their way in the NBA.
Duke will reload with a couple more five-star freshmen and be in contention for a potential Final Four run.
For the Bison? It is all about getting back to the Big Dance. The Herd will not be graduating any seniors and should be one of the favorites to win the Summit League.
Maybe if they’re lucky (or unlucky) the Bison will get another crack at Duke. It’s always a good day to be a Bison, but hold your horns up especially high for the boys that looked Goliath … or um, Zion, in the eye, and did not flinch.