Photo By Richard Carlson/Inertia
For the fourth time in six seasons, the North Dakota State men’s basketball team will play in the Summit League Tournament championship. The Bison men had to work for it, but came out with a 75-69 victory over a tough Oral Roberts team. The victory sets up a date with either North Dakota or Purdue Fort Wayne in tomorrow’s title contest. A berth in the NCAA Tournament will be on the line.
“This program is defined by toughness and togetherness. These guys are not going to be scared of a fight, I can tell you that,” head coach Dave Richman said postgame.
As many expected, the two teams began the contest trading baskets with one another. Oral Roberts offered forth some stifling on-ball defense in the early going, forcing the Bison to take some tough shots. Luckily, North Dakota State was able to get a few to go to stay even with the Golden Eagles. On the other end, Rocky Kreuser continued to set his jaw in the post against ORU big man Emmanuel Nzekwesi. It was the junior’s tight post defense that gave the Bison some momentum in the first 10 minutes.
The Golden Eagles were able to grab a slight advantage on the scoreboard before the under eight media timeout. Sophomore R.J. Fuqua was the main reason for that, scoring 12 points in the first 12 minutes of play. North Dakota State answered back with threes from Sam Griesel and Vinnie Shahid to pull even at 20 heading into the media timeout.
With Rocky Kreuser picking up his second foul with just under seven minutes left in the half, the Bison went small. North Dakota State was rewarded for doing so in the form of baskets from Shahid and Griesel. Dave Richman’s club took a 28-25 lead with two minutes and change left in the half. Oral Roberts was able to bring the score to 30 all with under a minute remaining. Tyson Ward buried a three with five seconds left in the half, giving the Bison a 33-30 advantage through 20 minutes.
“Huge shoutout to our strength coach, Jason Miller. He does a great job getting us into those positions to be strong and focus up,” Tyson Ward said of dealing with the Golden Eagle physicality. “We did that today.”
North Dakota State shot out of the locker room like a cannon. A flurry of offense capped off by a thunderous Rocky Kreuser jam stretched the Bison lead to 10 points. With 16 minutes remaining in the game, it began to look like Oral Roberts was running out of steam. The team did play a full 40 minutes last night against Omaha.
The Golden Eagles were able to weather the storm though. By the under 12 media timeout, Oral Roberts had trimmed the Bison lead to just three points. The Golden Eagles even grabbed the lead before the under eight timeout. Two crucial threes from Tyson Ward and Rocky Kreuser put the Bison back in front 54-50 with seven and a half minutes left.
Oral Roberts forward Kevin Obanor kept the Golden Eagles competitive with Emmanuel Nzekwesi on the bench with four fouls. However, that allowed NDSU to get downhill towards the basket for some easy points and free throw opportunities. With three minutes and change remaining, NDSU held a 63-57 lead.
Down the stretch, Sam Griesel was the one to make the most important plays. However, it was not in the scoring column. The sophomore got on the floor for a loose ball and drew a foul. He followed that up with a huge contest on a Kevin Obanor lay-up, which was missed. Without the gritty play of Griesel, the Bison may have had a different result altogether.
“Sam is a winner. Whatever we need him to do to win, he’s going to do it and we can count on him to do that in big moments. That’s what he did tonight,” Vinnie Shahid said of Griesel. “That’s just Sam. He makes winning plays. He made some of those plays on Saturday and today too. It showed up in the box score too, a lot of what he does doesn’t show up sometimes, but he is just a winner,” Richman added.
As Oral Roberts opted for desperation fouls, it was Cameron Hunter who sealed the victory at the line. The junior made eight consecutive free throws to lock it down. It was all gravy from there, as NDSU captured the 75-69 win and a date in the Summit League Tournament title tomorrow.
“To go out there and make big plays down the stretch like Cam Hunter, a guy who has been in and out of the lineup, had some adversity this year and struggled at times. He made some huge plays,” Richman said. “To nobody’s surprise, Tyson and Vinnie were terrific and we’re happy to have another 40.”
NDSU will match-up with either North Dakota or Purdue Fort Wayne tomorrow at 8 p.m.
Tonight’s Top Performers
Tyson Ward: 21 points
Vinnie Shahid: 17 points
Cameron Hunter: 12 points
Sam Griesel: 9 points/7 rebounds/Unlimited Grit