Bison men’s basketball split a pair on weekend doubleheader

Bison faulter to Grizzlies 82-75 following poor second half

As the Bison return home for the final slate of their non-conference schedule, they’re coming off an impressive 67-62 win over a solid Portland Pilots team on Monday. As the Bison returned home, they were tasked with taking on the Montana Grizzlies, who had just recently beat a South Dakota State team that was picked second in the Summit League 81-56 and held the Jacks to 33% from the field. Fortunately for the Bison, they would welcome their leading scorer Grant Nelson back to the floor after a two-game absence due to an ankle injury.

The Griz started out hot offensively, as they opened on an 8-0 run to start the game. While Nelson started the game 0-3 from down low, Montana big man Josh Bannan came firing out of the gates with 7 points on a perfect 3-3 from the field. The Bison, however, would respond quickly, making 6 of their next 8 field goals and going on a 15-7 run to tie the game at 18. As Jacari White drove and finished at the rim, Montana called a timeout with 9:50 to go in the first half. Grant Nelson had started to get going as he hit three of his next four shots to lead the way for the Bison as they tied the game.

“He’s a presence on the floor and a lot of teams look to double,” Bison guard Boden Skunberg said of Nelson. “It’s good through play through him, it gets a lot of other players a lot of open looks.”

The Bison’s lead would climb to four at 24-20 after Tajavis Miller hit a deep three in front of the Montana bench. Miller, who scored eight points in the first half, would not return to the floor for the end of the first half and all the second after suffering an ankle injury. The absence of Miller and his shooting prowess would be greatly missed as North Dakota State shot just 4-14 from three after Miller left with an injury.

“Tried to give it a go, he wasn’t himself,” Bison Head Coach David Richman said of Miller’s injury. “I’ll hear from training staff here tonight at some point.”

North Dakota State had built their lead up to 37-28 after Grant Nelson’s 13th and final points of the first half with two minutes remaining. Montana, however, would not go down quietly in the final minute. Aided by Nelson missing two straight threes, guards Brandon Whitney and Josh Vazquez charged through the lane for layups to help Montana go on a 5-0 run in the last 1:05 of the half and reduce their deficit to 37-33 at the break.

Montana continued to build on their run to open the gates and tie the game at 37 after buckets by Bannan and Whitney. Despite poor shooting, the Bison were in the lead at 41-39. As Grant Nelson hit a pair of free throws following the first media timeout of the half, he had scored his 19th and final point of the game. Meanwhile, Montana’s Josh Bannan was just getting started. Through the first twelve minutes of action in the second half, Bannan had 11 points in the half on 5-6 from the floor.

“I thought we let him get to his spots,” Richman stated of Bannan. “Certainty he’s a really good player. He can take you inside, take you outside. There’s not many fives that can bounce it like he can.”

The final eight minutes of the game would be the determining factor. Following the timeout, Montana proceeded to go on a 12-1 run led by who else other than Bannan who had ran his point total up to 24 and his team’s lead up to 65-56 with under six minutes to go.

The Bison continued to stay within striking distance thanks to Boden Skunberg. Skunberg continued to hit his free throws and a three from the right wing to keep the Bison in the game. As Skunberg went 12-12 from the free throw line, he led the Bison with a career-high 22 points.

“We just work on it every day in practice,” Skunberg said of free throws. “I feel like free throws are like 90% confidence. That’s all that really is.”

With Nelson being shut down for much of the second half, Skunberg had to take charge with Miller out and Andrew Morgan having little effect on the game as he attempted just one field goal attempt. Morgan was getting doubled all game long in the post and even played just 5:19 in the second half.

“That’s what everybody’s doing to Andrew right now in every single game,” Richman stated. “Clearly just his presence, our understanding off of it has led teams to continue to double him and we’ve got to get better there.”

Every time the Bison looked to make a comeback, Montana came back with two dagger threes. First, it was of course Bannan, who dropped his 27th and last point on a three from the top of the key to extend the Griz lead to 70-61. During the ensuing possession, with a scarce amount of time remaining, Dischon Thomas hit a three from the top of the key, his first field goal of the game.

North Dakota State continued to fight until the end, but Montana iced the game with their free throws, going 7-8 in the final stretch from the charity stripe to clinch the 82-75 win. Montana’s second-half effort where they shot 66.7% from the field brought them back up to .500 with a 5-5 record.

“That’s terrible,” Richman said of allowing Montana to shoot 66.7%. “We earned a terrific victory last Monday with grit, setting the tone defensively. I didn’t think we did that to start the game, I didn’t think we did that to close out the half and clearly, we didn’t do that in the second half. That’s on me to get these guys understanding each moment.”

As the Bison drop to 2-9 on the year, they’ll have one more opportunity to win a non-conference game against Waldorf on Sunday at 5:00 p.m.

“We’ve got to be better,” Richman asserted. “We’ve got to get better starting tomorrow.”

Game Stats:

Boden Skunberg; 22 Pts 7 Reb 12-12 FT; Grant Nelson; 19 Pts 6 Reb; Jacari White; 15 Pts 3 Reb

Bison respond with blowout win over Waldorf 99-54

Following a disappointing loss to Montana on Saturday night, the Bison returned to the floor Sunday evening against the Waldorf Warriors (NAIA). As the Bison dropped to 2-9 after last night’s loss, they would also be without Tajavis Miller due to an ankle injury.

The Bison, rocking their gold uniforms, started out hot as they connected on their first three shots en route to an 8-2 lead. Following back-to-back threes from Lance Waddles, the Bison lead was now double-digits at 20-10. Leading the way for much of the game was Boden Skunberg. Through the initial ten minutes of action, Skunberg paced the Bison with 11 points on 4-5 shooting from the field.

While Waldorf continued to make some shots, they were no match for North Dakota State and its shooting prowess. Through 12:20 in the first half, the Bison lead was up to 34-16 and North Dakota State had already hit six threes to that point. Despite the absence of one of their best shooters in Miller, others such as Skunberg, Damari Wheeler-Thomas, Lance Waddles, and Sam Hastreiter picked up the slack as those four combined for 10 threes on the day.

The North Dakota State lead would continue to expand as the game went on and was as high as 23 after a Hastreiter long ball. Despite all their success, the Bison’s leading scorer Grant Nelson went scoreless for the first 18:50 of the first half. However, Nelson would hit two layups and a free throw to lead the Bison into halftime with a 50-27 lead.

As impressive as the first half was for the Bison, their second-half start was even more so. North Dakota State game out of the gates on a 28-5 run as their lead had ballooned to 46 at 78-32 after Waddles cashed his fourth three of the night. Waldorf would proceed to go on a 6-0 but it was far too late. Jacari White, who earned his first start of the year, had a big second half. White scored all 12 of his points in the second half and snatched four rebounds.

NDSU guard Jacari White puts up two of his 12 second-half points against Waldorf on Sunday at the SHAC. The Bison defeated the Warriors 99-54. Photo Courtesy | Hayden Austin, the Spectrum

For the game, the Bison shot 54% from the field and 37% from behind the arc, a mark they had yet to reach simultaneously this season. Meanwhile, the Bison defense allowed just 54 points on Sunday while holding Waldorf to 33% for the game and just 29% in the second half. The Bison would cruise the rest of the way and even got the crowd on their feet with a reverse dunk from Grant Nelson. For the game, six different Bison scored in double figures and Nelson recorded a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds on the way to the 99-54 victory.

As the Bison improve to 3-9 on the season, they will get just over a week off before they start conference play. On Monday, December 19, the Bison will travel to Macomb, Ill. for a Summit League matchup with Western Illinois at 6:00 p.m. Two days later, they’ll make the trip to St. Thomas (Minn.) for a 7:00 p.m. tip-off.

Game Stats:

Boden Skunberg; 19 Pts 4 Reb 7-11 FG; Grant Nelson; 11 Pts 11 Reb 4 Ast

Damari Wheeler-Thomas; 13 Pts 5-7 FG; Sam Hastreiter; 13 Pts 7 Reb 5-9 FG

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