Herd hopes momentum from UND win continues
As the calendar flips to February, the Bison men’s basketball team looks to be getting back on track after a 91-75 victory over North Dakota at the Scheels Center last Friday. After losing two consecutive games to Oral Roberts and Kansas City at home, Grant Nelson took charge and guided the Herd by dropping 36 points on the Fighting Hawks.
North Dakota State now heads south for a Thursday night matchup against the South Dakota Coyotes, who most recently were clobbered by Oral Roberts by 50 on Monday. Following that primetime matchup, the Bison will make their way back up to Brookings, S.D. for another chapter in their storied rivalry against the South Dakota State Jackrabbits on Saturday afternoon.
In recent history, the Jacks have had the Bison’s number, and not just on the football field. When squaring off on the hardwood, the Herd had dropped five out of the last six games against South Dakota State prior to this season. That includes a full three-game sweep last season, culminating in a Summit League Championship. The Jacks ultimately prevailed 75-69 on that night in Sioux Falls, S.D. behind Douglas Wilson’s 20-point double-double, which extended South Dakota State’s win streak to 21 games and gave them a trip to the Big Dance.
Just under a month ago, the Bison got a bit of revenge and attained a 65-59 victory highlighted by a SportsCenter-worthy dunk by Grant Nelson. The Bison ceased the losing streak against their adversary with Nelson’s 17 points and Andrew Morgan’s 24-point, 13-rebound night. The Bison defense also limited Jacks’ leading scorer Zeke Mayo to just 13 points on 5-17 shooting.
Mayo, however, has had great success in Summit League play this season. The sophomore guard is averaging over 20 points per game in league play and most recently tallied a game-high 24 points in the Jacks’ 67-66 win over Western Illinois on Monday.
Before the Bison can worry about Mayo and the Jacks, they’ll take on the South Dakota Coyotes on Thursday evening. After picking up a big win on the road over St. Thomas on Saturday, the Coyotes were crushed in Tulsa, Okla. by Oral Roberts 103-53. South Dakota and 1st-year head coach Eric Peterson fell to 5-6 in league play after shooting a meager 32% from the field and surrendering 31 points to ORU’s Max Abmas.
The Bison have defeated the Coyotes five straight times and eight of the last nine matchups overall. Most recently, the Herd completed a dominant second half to pull away for a 73-61 victory in front of 1,702 in attendance at the Scheels Center on January 7. Coyotes leading scorer Kruz Perrott-Hunt nearly doubled his season average in points with 26, but much of the rest of the team was limited as the Bison held South Dakota to 37% shooting as a team.
Likely returning to the floor for North Dakota State will be forward Andrew Morgan. Morgan scored a career-high 29 points against Kansas City on January 21 but missed last Friday’s game against UND due to a family matter. Morgan has been the Herd’s third-leading scorer this season behind Nelson and Boden Skunberg, who is averaging 15.2 points per game over the last five games. Morgan, Nelson, and Skunberg are also 1st, 3rd, and 5th respectively in shooting percentage in Summit League play.
Throughout much of the non-conference schedule, playing time was more evenly dispersed than it has been in recent action. Damari Wheeler-Thomas and Jacari White are great examples as each of them has increased their minutes per game by at least 10 and has increased their statistical averages as well. While Nelson, Skunberg, Morgan, White, Wheeler-Thomas, and others have seen an uptick in minutes, others such as Sam Hastreiter’s and Luke Yoder’s playing time decreased. Those early season minutes were nonetheless crucial for when they are called upon down the road.
Those same players will likely continue to play similar roles this week as the Bison move along through league play. Thursday’s game will tip off at 7 p.m. from Vermillion and Saturday’s game will start in Brookings at 2 p.m. Both games will be broadcasted on Midco Sports 2 and ESPN+ and can be found on the radio on 107.9 The Fox.