The prospects began to look grim for the North Dakota State Bison after their despondent 82-74 loss to Western Illinois last Thursday. The Bison were staring down the possibility of an incredible tailspin of seven consecutive losses against conference opponents to close the season. On Saturday against Omaha, NDSU was determined to make sure that would not happen.
The Herd took a wire-to-wire, 84-62 victory against the Mavericks to put an exclamation point on an otherwise tempestuous regular season. The win moved the Bison’s record to 14-16 overall and 5-9 in conference and earned them the No. 5 seed for the upcoming Summit League tournament.
NDSU opened the contest connecting on five of their first six shots to create an early eight-point gap between themselves and the hosts.
Omaha cut the deficit in half, but the Bison ripped off a torrential 15-0 run to take a 19-point edge at the 9:06 mark in the first half. Jared Samuelson, Cameron Hunter and A.J. Jacobson capped the run with a trio of sequential three-pointers. Overall, in a span of 5:25 in the middle of the opening half, the Bison outscored UNO 21-6.
The Mavericks sought to make inroads on the mammoth deficit, but NDSU kept their conference foe, who were in play for the No. 6 seed, at bay. Omaha was unable to come closer than within 13 points of the Bison.
NDSU closed the first half with 46 points on 62.1 percent shooting and with Hunter, Jacobson and Paul Miller all in double digits. Their 46 points tied the most they had scored in the opening frame of a game since their Jan. 20 loss to Fort Wayne.
UNO emerged from the locker rooms with a renewed focus, which dovetailed with NDSU’s dry spell on offense. The Bison only scored five points in the first eight minutes of play, allowing the Mavericks to narrow the deficit to six.
A basket in the paint from Miller and Samuelson’s pair from beyond the arc rekindled the NDSU offense and restored the double-digit advantage. Steady scoring closed out the game for the Bison, especially from Tyson Ward, who contributed 13 second-half points.
A pair of Zach Johnson free throws brought the Mavericks to within 12, but Omaha was never able to draw any closer. The Bison suffocated Johnson, the Summit League’s fifth-best scorer, limiting the junior guard to four points.
Ward notched eight of NDSU’s last 1o points with a dunk and two emphatic three-pointers, the second of which was the final basket of the afternoon and saw the Bison’s lead move to their highest of the night at 22.
In total, the Bison had five players tally more than 10 points, led by Miller’s 22. Hunter and Ward scored 17 and 16 points, respectively, while Jacobson and Samuelson chipped in 12 each. NDSU was proficient in shooting in the game, going 55.2 percent from the field and knocking down 13 from downtown at a 48.1 percent clip.
With 27 against WIU and 22 Saturday, Miller advanced into seventh on the Bison all-time scoring list with 1,676 points, surpassing program legend Taylor Braun. Additionally, his 562 points this season are the 11th most in a single season by a Bison.
The Bison will square off with Fort Wayne in the Summit League tournament quarterfinals 6 p.m. Sunday, March 4. NDSU lost both of its games to the Mastodons this year, losing 92-88 on the road and 84-72 on Senior Day in Fargo.
The conference tournament will take place from March 3 to March 7 at the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.