Tough match-ups for the Herd as regular season winds down
The Bison men’s basketball team is coming off a pair of home wins last week over Omaha 84-58 and Denver 78-70. With just four games left to play in the Summit League, the Bison currently sit in third place with a record of 8-6. This Thursday and Saturday, they will make the trek down to tornado valley to take on the Kansas City Roos and Oral Roberts Golden Eagles, who each beat the Bison in Fargo earlier this season.
Fresh off a five-game win streak, Bison Head Coach David Richman had his team rolling before conference-leading Oral Roberts came to town in the third week of January. The Eagles proved to be too much for the Bison as they used a dominant second half to pull away for a 92-69 victory. Two days later, the Herd dropped another as they fell to Kansas City 75-73 on their home court in front of 1,954 in attendance.
Following those losses, the Bison would take an even further step back as they dropped two out of their next three. Richman and the Bison got back on track last week however with two big wins over Omaha and Denver. Grant Nelson led the Bison over Omaha with a double-double and joined four others in scoring in double-digits to complement their suffocating defense that held the Mavericks to just 17 first-half points. This past Saturday against Denver, Boden Skunberg led the charge for the Herd where he dropped a career-high 30 points as the Bison beat the Pioneers 78-70.
With Nelson and Skunberg leading the charge, the Bison will look to come away with a pair of wins this weekend. They each have done just that as Nelson is averaging 4.8 assists per game in the last four contests along with a nearly 20-point, 10-rebound average for the year. The two North Dakota natives are the only two of the top nine Bison players that are non-freshmen or sophomores. That kind of inexperience can be difficult to make up, especially against very experienced Oral Roberts and Kansas City teams.
However, Richman and the Bison have made it clear they aren’t ones to make excuses. Since conference play started, many of those sophomores and freshmen have made substantial improvements. Freshman Damari Wheeler-Thomas has seen his points per game average rise from 4.8 to 6.7 over the 14 league games. And Joshua Streit has shot 88% from the field in conference play as well.
Streit and the Bison bigs will certainly have their hands full on Saturday against ORU big man Connor Vanover. The Arkansas transfer is second on the team in scoring with 12.8 PPG and is averaging 3.4 blocks per game. Vanover is joined by veterans Issac McBride, Kareem Thompson, and the almost guaranteed Summit League Player of the Year Max Abmas. Abmas is currently third in the nation in scoring at 22.8 PPG and is averaging 24.8/4.1/3.8 in league play.
In their win in Fargo, Abmas stuck 22 points on the Bison along with 15 points from Vanover as they passed the 90-point threshold and routed the Bison 92-69. The Eagles are averaging 86.4 points per game on the season, 2nd best of anyone in Division I. To add to the already ominous challenge, the Eagles are also a perfect 14-0 at home this season.
On the flip side, Kansas City has the worst scoring offense of anyone in the Summit League, averaging just 66.8 points per contest. However, the Roos have had the Bison’s number, winning four of their last five matchups. The most recent matchup just over three weeks ago also resulted in a Kansas City victory as they won 75-73 over the Herd.
The Roos were led offensively by senior guards RayQuawndis Mitchell and Shemarri Allen. Mitchell scored 23 points while going 5-11 from three and Allen scored 28 points and had seven assists. Allen and Mitchell have been carrying their team in the scoring column all season, both averaging over 18 points per game on the season, double the number of the next closest.
Last time around, the Roos were able to limit Grant Nelson and Boden Skunberg to just 19 combined points on the day. What they did struggle with was containing forward Andrew Morgan. The 6’10” forward scored a career-high 29 points on 11-16 shooting and grabbed 8 rebounds. These pivotal games could be crucial for tournament seeding as the regular season winds down.
North Dakota State will tip off with Kansas City at 7 p.m. on Thursday, and Oral Roberts at the same time on Saturday. Both games will be streamed on the host schools’ websites and will each be on the radio at 107.9 The Fox.