Photo By Nolan P. Schmidt
Bison fans breathed a collective sigh of relief following the NDSU men’s 71-69 win over Denver in the Summit League Tournament Quarterfinals. The Bison avoided a second straight year where the eight-seed would upset the conference’s top seed.
“Maybe we were a little too tight, we addressed it all week and maybe that’s on me,” said NDSU head coach Dave Richman of this one versus eight contest. “Denver played well, they played really well. They played hard like you knew they would. It’s the conference tournament, you have a new life, there is no tomorrow if you lose. I thought they played like it.”
It was by no means the cleanest opening for Dave Richman’s club in the early going. The Bison began the game shooting two of seven from the field. Their saving grace was once again their defense and aggressiveness on the other end. Despite the poor shooting, North Dakota State made four free throws within the first four minutes of the contest.
Sophomore gunner Tyree Eady sat the game out in concussion protocol. Sam Griesel started the game, but Eady’s absence opened the door for sophomore Jaxon Knotek to find some minutes. It was Knotek’s baseline drive and dunk that livened the NDSU offense.
“He surprised me. He does that in practice all the time, but to see him do it in a game in such a big-time way in front of all these fans, it was cool,” said senior Tyson Ward of Knotek’s momentum-shifting play.
With the score 18-12 and just a shade under 11 minutes left in the first half, NDSU entered the bonus. Knowing this, the Bison took full advantage, attacking the rim and getting to the free-throw line. Already one of the top teams in the nation in free throw efficiency, NDSU asserted that moniker further in the first half. The Bison converted on 11 of their 14 free-throw attempts in the first 20 minutes.
That is not to say Denver was slouching on either end. Senior Ade Murkey and freshman Robert Jones were a one-two punch, each scoring 10 points. The Pioneers shot an impressive 58 percent from the field in the first half. NDSU was led by Tyson Ward’s 11 points and Vinnie Shahid’s 10. Despite shooting 39 percent from the field, the Bison led at halftime 36-30.
It was not until the second half that NDSU began to impose themselves on both ends. With the Pioneers cooling off slightly from the field, Vinnie Shahid saw an opening. The senior scored seven points in a four-minute and 40-second span. This forced Denver to take a timeout as the Bison lead ballooned to 10 points with just over 15 minutes left.
“We were just trying to make the next single. They were face-guarding me, so that opened up space for other guys to make plays,” said Shahid following his seven-point onslaught. “At the end of the game, it comes down to getting stops though.”
Denver would not go quietly into the peaceful Sioux Falls night, however. Sophomore Jase Townsend went on his own 10-point run to put the Pioneers in front with just under 11 minutes left. On the ensuing possession, Bison senior Jared Samuelson canned a three-pointer, making that Denver lead short-lived. The Pioneers would regain the lead shortly thereafter. By the under eight media timeout, Denver held a 58-57 advantage over the Bison.
With the Pioneers controlling the pace and the scoreboard in the later stages of this contest, it seemed NDSU would fall victim to the upset. However, in March, games are defined by your veteran players. In this case, it was Vinnie Shahid and Tyson Ward. Shahid buried a three to put the Bison back in front with a minute and change left. Following a Denver bucket to knot it up, it was Tyson Ward who converted on an and-one.
“Monday night he is going to make the free throw, I’ll tell you that,” said Richman after Ward missed the ensuing free throw. “We just needed a basket, so if it was me attacking and I had to kick it, it was about making the right basketball play,” said Ward of the play.
As the Pioneers tied the game at 69 with 25 seconds remaining, everyone inside the Denny Sanford Premier Center knew the ball would go to Vinnie Shahid. The senior drove into the teeth of the Pioneer defense and drew a foul. Shahid nailed two free throws to put the Bison up 71-69.
“It shows that my teammates trust me with the ball. They did that and I stepped to the line and just did my routine,” Shahid said of the free throws.
In the end, it was the Bison defense that held true in the final six seconds.
“It showed who we are on both ends. We were together offensively, Tyson made some plays, Vinnie made some huge ones down the stretch,” Richman said. “But we got that stop. That is what I want to be about, I want to earn things. We had to earn that win tonight.”
North Dakota State will match-up with either Oral Roberts or Omaha at 6 p.m. on Monday evening.
Tonight’s Top Performers
Vinnie Shahid: 22 points
Tyson Ward: 20 points
Sam Griesel: 10 points, 13 rebounds