Photo By Dave Eggen/Inertia
When it’s March, I can only use the one-word moniker of broadcaster Bill Raftery to describe things. Tonight in Dayton, Ohio, the North Dakota State men’s basketball team was “onions”. The Bison ground out a win over a physically imposing North Carolina Central team. I don’t know what else to say to intro this one.
It took North Dakota State some time to settle into this contest. North Carolina Central came out playing aggressive, overpursuing defense in the early going. Vinnie Shahid was getting a faceguard through the first 10 minutes or so and it was clear that the Eagles wanted to force the ball into someone else’s hands. However, by the under eight media timeout, the Bison had stretched their lead to eight points. Much of this is thanks to Jared Samuelson, who scored nine points.
I had said in our preview notebook that rebounding would be key for NDSU in this game. North Carolina Central got a ton of long offensive rebounds in the first half. On almost every occasion, it was Raasean Davis getting the second chance basket. Davis had 10 first-half points to go along with five rebounds. North Carolina Central’s press was getting activated on made baskets and the Eagles retreated on missed shots. North Dakota State went on an 11-0 run midway through the first 20 minutes because North Carolina Central backed off their press following missed shots.
“I tell my teammates ‘look, if they’re going to faceguard me, you’re going to be playing four on four a little bit’,” said Vinnie Shahid, who felt North Carolina Central’s pressure all game. “Not necessarily in that sense, because basketball is a five-person game, but if they’re going to take me out of the play, I’m going to give them more space to play.”
“Jared did a great job, Sam, Rocky, all those guys did a great job trying to get Vinnie the ball. When it comes down to it, the next person has to step up and bring the ball up,” said Tyson Ward. “I think one to five, five to one, everybody can bring up the ball. There’s no problem with that.”
That’s not to say the Eagles were ice cold as they hung with the Bison the whole frame thanks to that defensive pressure. Yet, North Dakota State was able to drill long range shots at an incredibly efficient clip in the first half, which was North Carolina Central’s worst nightmare coming into the game. The Bison shot 50 percent from deep to go along with a 58 percent mark from the field. While their three-point shooting will get much of the credit, North Dakota State’s ability to drive to the lane past the overly aggressive Eagles defenders kept their offense on the rails. Not only that, they were able to drive to the lane at will. On the other end, the Eagles shot a decent 39 percent from the field, but a lagging 31 percent from three.
The Eagles could not win this game if it turned into a shootout. On multiple occasions, North Dakota State made it just that in the first frame. However, North Carolina Central was able to limit the Bison to only a few bursts thanks to their defense and physicality. After 20 minutes, North Dakota State led 40-34. Tyson Ward was quietly incredible, scoring a game-high 11 points in the first half.
North Carolina Central returned to some sense of normalcy as the second half began. They turned the ball over on consecutive possessions, picked up two offensive fouls and were failing to get Davis the basketball. On the flipside, North Dakota State took full advantage. Tyson Ward continued to pace the Bison offensively with Sam Griesel and Vinnie Shahid notching and-ones as well. Dave Richman’s squad also began to zero in on the glass, crashing on every shot attempt and snaring every rebound. That aspect of their game was night and day from first to second half.
The Eagles would just not go away despite a 15-2 run for North Dakota State. They countered with a 9-0 run themselves to pull within four. Again, rebounding and second chances were given to North Carolina Central. In large part, this is what led to that run. By the under 12 media timeout, the Eagles were still within striking distance down by five points.
North Dakota State went stale from the floor, leaving the door open for North Carolina Central to tie the game at 58 just before the under eight media timeout. Larry McKnight Jr. caught fire from deep and pushed the Eagles lead to five points with just over five minutes remaining.
“It’s just stick to the gameplan. Stay calm, stay collected, stay poised. We use that word a lot, but it’s really the critical part of our game. Without any composure, it’s going to be a tough night,” said Tyson Ward on the Eagles run. “That’s what really sparked us, staying calm, collected and not letting them speed us up.”
As they have done this entire season, North Dakota State was once again able to weather the storm. The Bison used the Eagles’ foul count to their advantage in the late stages, getting to the line frequently. Tyson Ward was huge down the stretch, notching some key buckets in the paint to extend the Bison lead to three. Ward finished with 23 points to the team. Down the stretch, North Dakota State salted the game away with free throws, winning by a final of 78 to 74.
“Coach Richman just said to try and get the ball into the post and just move it around. That is where we had a lot of success in the Summit League Championships, we got the ball into Deng and Rocky as well,” said Ward on his takeover in the last four minutes where he scored eight points. “It helps our offense move a bit and people lose track of our great shooters and we capitalize on that.”
You couldn’t ask for a better way to begin this team’s journey in the NCAA Tournament. They fought, fell down, got back up and were able to gut out another comeback victory. The resolve of this team has been talked about time and time again. It truly cannot be overstated how resilient this team is and now that quality will carry them to Columbia, South Carolina.
Waiting for them will be the number one overall seed in Duke. I do not need to go into the details of why that is significant, but it is easily one of the biggest games in this university’s history. Also, the program has picked up their second NCAA Tournament win in four appearances tonight.
“It’s really neat. It’s really cool. You think about it in so many ways. This is the 11th year of Division I eligibility. We’re still in so many ways in our infancy,” said Dave Richman when asked about winning the program’s second NCAA Tournament game. “And to have the success and now two wins in the NCAA Tournament, it’s a credit to a great bunch of guys, a terrific leadership, administration.”
It all happened because this team believed. When no one else would, these guys stood tall and fought. The result for them? Another NCAA Tournament victory for North Dakota State University.