Bison win statement game against USD, fail to carry momentum against SDSU

NDSU women hang on to 2nd in Summit race

The North Dakota State University women’s basketball team returned to Fargo following a three-game road trip. The Herd’s final stretch of conference play began with two daunting home tests against the University of South Dakota and South Dakota State University. Coming into the weekend, NDSU held a slim 1/2 game lead for the second spot in the Summit League standings. A couple of wins over two tough opponents would help the Herd solidify their spot heading into the remainder of conference play.

On Thursday, although they led most of the game, NDSU needed overtime to defeat South Dakota 86-82. On Saturday afternoon, NDSU sprinted out to an early lead but got crushed by SDSU’s steadfast defense in the second quarter, leading to an 82-54 loss. After splitting the weekend series, NDSU (14-8, 8-4 Summit) sits tied with Oral Roberts University for the second spot in the Summit League.

NDSU fights past South Dakota 86-82 (OT)

            The University of South Dakota has had NDSU’s number for years. The Bison had not completed a regular season sweep of the Coyotes since the 1999-20 season. With an away win in Vermillion already on NDSU’s resume, Thursday presented an opportunity for the Herd to end this 23-year drought.

            NDSU came out of the gates fast as senior guard Heaven Hamling found forward Taylor Brown off of the opening tip for a quick layup. Hamling then intercepted a USD pass and went coast to coast for a lay-in of her own. The Herd’s defensive efforts paid off once again as, for the third consecutive possession, NDSU grabbed another steal, this time leading to a Hamling three-pointer. This quick pace was exactly how the Bison wanted to start the game.

 “That’s how we like to play, we try to use transitions as fast pace, and if we can’t get a runout, to just get into our offense,” NDSU head coach Jory Collins explained post-game. “We were getting it up the court fast, and I thought we put a little pressure on them early.”

Even though the Herd’s defense and transition game put pressure on USD, the Coyotes still found opportunities to attack the paint and tie the game up at 15-15 with three minutes to play in the first. Junior guard Rachel Novak converted an and-one to put the Bison up three heading into a media timeout. Following the timeout, NDSU guard Abby Graham made her presence known on both sides of the court, as she sunk an acrobatic layup, then denied a Coyote shot attempt. Both teams then traded baskets in quick succession, and after a high-paced first quarter, the Herd led the ‘Yotes 23-22.

Following the high-scoring first, defense flourished in the second. Freshman guard Elle Evans racked up three of her career-high four blocks in the second quarter as she was instrumental to the Herd’s defense.

The Bison had their chances to pull away in the quarter, but the chances were hindered due to cold shooting from beyond the arc. NDSU shot 28.6 percent from three on seven attempts. Although the shots were not falling, the Herd maintained a slight advantage, leading 36-34 going into the half.

Missed opportunities once again plagued the Bison as USD knotted the game up at 40 to start the third. The Herd’s rough shooting continued out of the break, shooting a mere 22.2 percent from the field while hitting no three-pointers. With NDSU’s shot running cold, the Herd looked elsewhere for points. Taylor Brown and forward Emily Behnke feasted on the boards in the quarter, eventually leading to seven second-chance points in the quarter for the Bison, compared to USD’s zero. NDSU continued to create chances on the defensive end, however, they still could not translate them into points. The Coyotes took advantage of this and snuck their way into striking distance as guard Grace Larkins sunk a late layup to tie the game at 50 heading into the fourth quarter.

South Dakota took the lead on the back of two early free throws. However, a three from Hamling and a quick layup from Brown gave the lead back to NDSU. The Bison found success in the paint, but every time they scored it seemed that the Coyotes would trade a basket back. Heaven Hamling intercepted a USD pass, leading to a fastbreak layup to put the Herd up two. A USD foul then triggered a media timeout that saw NDSU up 61-59 with 4:47 left to play. After the timeout, the Herd finally got a three-pointer to connect, extending the Bison lead to five. However, NDSU fouls helped the Coyotes come back to within two with 2:56 remaining in regulation.

NDSU guard Heaven Hamling takes advantage of a South Dakota turnover and scores an easy layup for two of her 28 points last Thursday at Scheels Center. The Bison defeated the Coyotes 86-82 in overtime.

Photo Courtesy | Hayden Austin – the Spectrum

Tensions rose inside the Scheels Center, as neither team could pull away with the game. South Dakota had an opportunity to take the lead, however, the shot was emphatically blocked by Elle Evans, who got fouled on the way down. This defensive play energized the fatigued Bison starters, who played the entire fourth quarter. Evans’ free throws put NDSU up 71-65, forcing a USD timeout with 57.9 seconds left to play in the ballgame.

 The fight was not over coming out of the timeout, as the Coyotes drained a quick three-pointer. NDSU ran down the shot clock on the ensuing possession, but Hamling was unable to make the game-sealing shot.

USD got a final possession, trailing by three with eight seconds left to go. Grace Larkins shot a quick three-pointer that bounced off the back iron, into the waiting hands of a Coyote forward who dished it out to guard Nicole Avila-Ambrosi, who drained a clutch three that stunned the Fargo crowd.

NDSU got an opportunity in their own half, however, the ball was inbounded too far for Behnke and sent out of bounds with a tenth of a second remaining. South Dakota was unable to get a shot off, and a wild fourth quarter finally came to an end with both teams tied at 71.

Hamling kicked off the five-minute overtime period for NDSU with a mid-range jumper and a layup that was quickly answered by Larkins, who nailed a three to give USD a slight 77-76 edge. The Bison answered back with two separate trips to the foul line. When the Coyotes tried to regain their momentum, junior guard Abby Schulte made an electrifying defensive effort in which she got physical and knocked the ball loose, dove onto the floor and secured it. Jory Collins quickly took a timeout to avoid a jump ball situation, giving NDSU the ball up 80-77 with 1:14 to play in OT. This defensive intensity was exactly what the Bison needed in overtime.

“They are a very respectable team,” Hamling remarked postgame. “We knew we had five extra minutes of basketball, so we needed to prioritize getting defensive stops and convert them into points.”

 Hamling then scored a clutch layup that got the crowd to its feet. NDSU held an 82-77 lead with 41.5 seconds left in OT.

USD answered back on their offensive end, but the Coyotes had no answer for Heaven Hamling, who stayed consistent and drained a fadeaway hook shot as the shot clock expired to put the Bison up 84-79 with 11 seconds remaining. South Dakota then hit a three, then was forced to foul Evans, who sank both shots, putting the Herd up four with time ticking down.

The Bison battled through adversity and earned a statement win for the program as they completed the season sweep over the Coyotes.

The Bison let momentum slip as they fall to SDSU, 82-54

            South Dakota State came into the game undefeated in the Summit League. Fresh off of their overtime victory against South Dakota, the Bison looked to utilize their momentum to attempt to dethrone the Jacks.

            Much like their game on Thursday, NDSU started the game quickly. The Bison shot out to an early 11-2 lead in a sequence spearheaded by strong shooting from Heaven Hamling and Abby Schulte. This opening sequence was similar to how the Herd opened up their game against USD, only this time, turnovers stunted NDSU’s early momentum, allowing the Jackrabbits a window to make up much of the lead. The Bison found their opportunities to score and took them, ending the quarter leading the Jacks 23-18.

            It seemed as though South Dakota State flipped a switch to start the second quarter, as they played with intense physicality and completely turned the momentum of the game in their favor.

            “They switched up their ball-screen coverages and we were not able to make adjustments,” Jory Collins admitted. “We got it in and around the rim multiple possessions in a row and didn’t finish or get any fouls.”

            While the Jacks completely locked the Bison down, they practically lived at the foul line as free throws accounted for nine of their 18 second-quarter points. At the end of a dominant second quarter, the Jackrabbits led the Bison 36-26. SDSU held NDSU to a mere three points on dreadful 9.1 percent shooting.

            Coming out of the half, it was apparent that South Dakota State’s momentum would not waver. It seemed like any attempt to score by the Bison was nullified by the Jackrabbits’ defense. The Herd played hard but a combination of cold shooting and turnovers led to an eventual 13-0 SDSU run that spanned most of the period. NDSU took a timeout with three minutes remaining in the quarter to try and slow the Jacks down. After the timeout, the Herd’s shots finally started to drop, but the match was already lit, and the fire was not stopping. SDSU outscored the Bison 28-13 in the quarter, heading into the fourth up 64-39.

            The Bison made efforts to rally back in the fourth quarter, but the damage was already done. The Jackrabbits’ overpowering defense rattled the Bison and after their highly efficient first quarter, the Bison ended the game with a total of 35.4 percent shooting from the field, compared to SDSU’s 51 percent.

            With the win over USD, NDSU earned its spot toward the top of the Summit, however, SDSU’s dominance showed that they are again the ones to beat in March.

             “We gotta take this film and learn from it,” junior forward Emily Behnke stated. “We hope to see them down the road and be able to make adjustments from what happened today.”

            The Herd now embarks on a weekend road trip to Omaha, Neb., and Denver, Colo., to face the University of Nebraska Omaha and the University of Denver. The last time out, the Bison beat UNO 83-71 and rolled past Denver 71-43. Wins on this trip would help NDSU (14-8, 8-4 Summit) break their tie with Oral Roberts and stay in second place in the Summit League standings.

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