NDSU clinches second place in league standings and a #2 seed in the tournament
After their last two-game homestand, the North Dakota State University women’s basketball team journeyed on a two-game road stint to wrap up the regular season. NDSU had to fight past the University of St. Thomas on Thursday and Western Illinois University on Saturday. The Herd came into the weekend looking to secure the second seed in the upcoming Summit League Tournament. The Bison found momentum in the second half and beat St. Thomas 64-44, then held off a fierce WIU team to finish the regular season with an 82-74 win.
Bison surge past Tommies after a sluggish first half
The Herd endured a blizzard as they traveled east on I-94 to St. Paul, Minn. for their matchup with the University of St. Thomas.
The weather outside was frightful, and the shooting inside Schoenecker Arena early was no different. Both teams started out the game ice cold. NDSU shot a dreadful 25 percent from the field and the Tommies shot 28.57 percent. Combinations of sloppy turnovers and missed shots created a low-scoring first quarter that St. Thomas came out of leading 8-6.
The struggles continued into the second, with neither team able to put together a sizable push to get ahead. After both teams traded baskets early, the game stalled out for a whopping four minutes until NDSU retook the lead with an Elle Evans jump shot with 1:22 remaining in the half. However, St. Thomas answered right back with an and-one opportunity that put them up 18-17 heading into halftime.
NDSU strung together an 8-2 run to start the third, accompanied by a vastly different pace from the first half. The Bison took the momentum gained from this run and ran with it, outscoring the Tommies 24-9 in the period.
With a 41-27 lead at the start of the fourth, the Herd had all of the tools available to close out the game. NDSU pounded the paint, extending their lead to as many as 22. St. Thomas finally started to get their offense going, but it was too little, too late. The Bison rode their momentum and closed out the Tommies, 64-44.
NDSU, who is usually a high-volume three-point shooting team, was held to only six points from beyond the arc on just six attempts. However, the Herd utterly dominated the paint, racking up 42 points, complemented by 41 rebounds. This effort was spearheaded by the three starting Bison bigs: Elle Evans, Taylor Brown and Emily Behnke. All three scored double digits, with Evans reaching a game-high 17 points.
Heaven Hamling suffered a nose injury in the third quarter but ultimately returned shortly after, donning a face mask. It was a slow game for Hamling, who was held to a mere five points.
The Bison moved to 17-10 on the season and 11-6 in the Summit League ahead of their final regular season game.
Hamling and Evans shine in regular season finale win
After their win against St. Thomas, NDSU needed one more victory to lock up the second seed in the Summit League tournament. The team that stood in their way was a gritty, tough Western Illinois team that seemed to never quit.
Starting out the game, NDSU starting forward Emily Behnke picked up two consecutive personal fouls, forcing her to be subbed out before the eight-minute mark. Despite this, the Bison flew out to an early 10-2 lead, moving the ball well and finding good shots inside. The Herd maintained this advantage, shooting a stellar 60 percent from the field to lead 20-12 at the end of the first quarter.
NDSU then pushed their lead to as much as 15 midway through the second. With all of the momentum on their side, it seemed like the Herd would be able to coast their way to victory. Western Illinois was not discouraged, however, as they steadily converted off of Bison turnovers and fouls to mount a comeback. NDSU’s scoring hit a plateau after their initial outburst, which did not help halt the Leathernecks’ attack. The halftime buzzer stopped an overall 19-8 Western run that brought the Bison lead down to four.
The Herd exploded with a huge 12-0 run to start the third. Although the Leathernecks soon answered back with points of their own, the advantage gained in the run sufficed the Bison through the quarter. Fouling started to become the main issue for NDSU, as Elle Evans picked up her fourth with 1:49 remaining. These fouls allowed WIU to creep back into the game, with the Bison leading 60-53 at the end of the quarter.
Hamling kickstarted the fourth with a quick three-pointer that allowed NDSU to once again extend their lead to double digits. However, Western continued to answer back on the offensive end. The Leathernecks’ perseverance kept the game close throughout the fourth quarter, but NDSU was always able to maintain a stable lead. Bison guard Abby Schulte put the nail in the coffin, as she sank a three-pointer to put the Herd up 82-74 with 1:09 remaining. NDSU rode out the remaining time and finished the game and regular season strong.
Barring the foul trouble, true freshman Elle Evans provided the Herd with a consistent punch on both sides of the court. The Edwardsville, Ill., native put up another 17-point performance while blocking three WIU shots in only 22 minutes of playing time.
Donning the protective mask due to her injury, Heaven Hamling contributed her second 30+ point game this season, racking up 31 on her way to rout the Leathernecks.
With the win, the Bison secured the second seed in the Summit League Tournament. The second seed is crucial for the Herd, as it not only means avoiding South Dakota State until the championship game but also includes an automatic bid to the Women’s National Invitational Tournament (WNIT) if the Bison don’t win the Summit League tournament and advance to the NCAA tournament.
Now, all eyes rest on one goal. The Bison will look to carry their late-season momentum into the Summit League Tournament in Sioux Falls, S.D. at the Denny Sanford Premier Center from March 3rd through the 7th.
The #2 Bison (18-10, 12-8 Summit) will face the winner of #10 UM-Kansas City (7-22, 3-15 Summit) and #7 Denver (12-17, 8-10 Summit) on Saturday at 3 p.m. The game will be televised on Midco Sports Plus and ESPN+.