And thus, a historic chapter in North Dakota State men’s basketball history has closed. With the Bison falling to number one overall seed Duke in Columbia, South Carolina, this evening they end their season 19-16 on the year. Despite staying competitive through the first 20 minutes, the top-rated Blue Devils showed why they have been given that title in the second half.
But you’d be wrong if you said North Dakota State didn’t bring the fight for 40 minutes. They did, and they fought hard. The Bison made the most of this opportunity for their school and their fans.
The common worry in a game of this magnitude, with an opponent like Duke, is the “deer in the headlight” mentality. Would North Dakota State come out and not be big enough for the moment? Unfortunately for the Blue Devils, they were not and came out fully prepared to beat Duke. In fact, Vinnie Shahid nailed two early triples to pace the Bison to a 12-5 lead at the under 16-minute media timeout.
Again, this came against the number one overall seed in this tournament. Yes, it was early in the game, but the sense of energy and momentum clearly favored North Dakota State early on in this game. Hence why the Bison controlled the first 10 minutes, leading 14-11 with 11:34 left in the first half. While Duke picked up the defensive intensity after the first media timeout, Deng Geu was able to get a putback basket to extend the Bison lead.
“It was just playing basketball. You know, 40 minutes were up, and we came out teed up, ready to play, and when we played with a whole bunch of excitement, we’re a tough team to beat,” said junior forward Tyson Ward.
However, Duke’s increased fervor on both ends started to wane on North Dakota State. Within the first 12 minutes, the Bison only shot 20 percent from deep on 10 attempts. That is a far cry from what fans and observers of this team are used to. A Zion Williamson slam sent Colonial Life Arena into a frenzy, it also gave Duke an 18-16 lead.
North Dakota State then went on nearly a six minutes scoring drought. Vinnie Shahid snapped it, still keeping the Bison within two points. Just before the under four media timeout, Shahid muscled his way into the lane for an and-one opportunity. After he made the ensuing free throw, the Bison led 25-24 with just over two minutes left in the half.
Over the course of that two and a half minutes, Cam Reddish jammed one home and Jordan Goldwire buried Duke’s second three of the night. By halftime, Duke led 31-27. Shahid led the way for NDSU with 15 points while Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett paced Duke with 10 points each. North Dakota State’s defensive effort on a team more physically imposing than them was impressive through 20 minutes. North Dakota State also commanded the rebounding battle by five boards. That is a stat no one thought the Bison would command.
The second half kicked off with a 9-0 run by Duke. Of those nine points, Zion Williamson scored six of them, showing just how dominant of a player he is. By the under 16-minute media timeout, Williamson had tallied eight points in four minutes to give Duke a 14-point lead.
Williamson and the Blue Devils continued to impose their will and physical advantage over the Bison. The presumed number one overall pick got the crowd rocking with a big dunk and a three-point make. Couple that with a reverse slam from R.J. Barrett in fastbreak and the game got away, fast. With less than 12 minutes remaining, Duke had extended their lead to 26 points.
Duke commanded the rest of the game, but North Dakota State stayed aggressive despite a large deficit. They continued to shoot and attack the rim the way they usually do. The Bison did not roll over regardless of what the score says. The Blue Devils are a better team and they showed that with an 85-62 final score. Zion Williamson led Duke with 25 points, R.J. Barrett added 26 more. Vinnie Shahid scored a team-high 20 points for the Bison.
“I thought we beat a really good team today, a championship team. The last month of their season, I thought they were the best team in their league,” said Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski. “Extremely well-coached, the kid Shahid is their most dominant leader and he played so well today especially in the first half. They’re good, they’re very good. It was a good game for us, applaud them.”
Now, this run, this season, it’s over. However, you cannot, for one second, demean anything this team has done this year. They fought, they scratched and they grinded through some of the roughest patches I’ve seen in a basketball season. And what was their reward? A trip to the NCAA Tournament, a tournament win and an opportunity to face off against the best team, player and coach in the tournament. It doesn’t stop there, they battled with said team for a full 40 minutes.
“More so than anything, what our guys accomplished in the last three weeks in particular and over the last six weeks is tremendous. But that doesn’t come close to what I’m really proud of. What I’m really proud of is how they did it. We talked a lot about representing a school, a community, a fan base, a state the right way, and to me, these guys did it,” said head coach Dave Richman. :We talk in our program a how is way greater than a what. Our guys, how they attacked this, how they stayed the course from a group that was 2-7 at one point, it was just an absolute pleasure to be around.”
Let me make this clear: not too many teams can say that. North Dakota State can.
For that, and that alone, they have nothing to be ashamed about. There is no need for them to hang their heads in defeat. This year’s North Dakota State men’s team showcased to the entire nation that they are a mid-major program to be reckoned with. And guess what? They’re not going away anytime soon…
“They return everybody. Watch out, watch out. They’re going to be that team in their conference,” said Krzyzewski after the game.
It’s odd, but the opposing coach, a coach who has won more games than anyone, gave the most accurate summation of this team, where they have been and where they are going.