After NDSU made its first run to the NCAA Tournament in the spring of 2009, the program turned around the following fall and went on to perform at a level not seen in NDSU basketball since 2002.
With its stars tapped out of eligibility and inexperience thrown into the limelight, the 2009-10 Bison suffered a major set back, finishing the season with an 11-18 record.
With the memories fresh in the minds of fans, some wondered if the same thing would happen to this year’s team coming off a NCAA Tournament appearance.
Bison Nation waited in anticipation for this year’s men’s Bison basketball team to see if they would endure another slip in program prestige as it said goodbye to three of its top four scorers and its fiery leader that decided to continue his coaching career in a more reputable conference.
The remnants of a Bison team that advanced to the Round of 32 was a senior point guard as floor general, an experienced junior who is willing to lock down the most prolific of scorers and a slew of role players that have basked in the glory of players like Marshall Bjorkland, Taylor Braun and TrayVonn Wright.
Kory Brown, the aforementioned defensive specialist, saw the disrespect given to his team by the coaches this preseason when the Bison were voted to finish fifth in a league they dominated a season prior.
“We didn’t like it,” Brown said before a practice during the pre-season. Brown said he’d like to show everybody in the conference that they are still a good basketball team and to no surprise, they’ve done exactly that.
During the first two seasons of Brown’s career he has been given the task to guard the other team’s best perimeter players. Guards like Nate Wolters, Luis Jacobo and Garret Covington have been harassed by Brown’s athleticism, wingspan and will to never back down.
But like many of his teammates, Brown has been asked to fill a new role this season.
“I think his energy is effective for us on the offensive end as well,” first year head coach Dave Richman said. “Between AJ (Jacobson) and Kory, they’re a unique matchup with who you’re going to guard your three or your four with.”
It only took 18 games this season for Brown to reach his shot total from his freshman season and it only took 20 games to reach his shot total from his sophomore campaign.
Although Brown has battled a knee issue, he says his energy hasn’t been compromised on the defensive end with his new role on offense.
“It’s a mentality thing for me to have the energy. If I can think it, I can do it,” said Brown, who has seen his points and rebounds per game spike this season.
Brown has been a new fixture in the offense for the Bison, but the hands-down leader and nucleus of the team has been four-year starting point guard Lawrence Alexander.
Coming into the season, the Bison knew they would live and die by the play of Alexander. With the senior leading the Summit League in scoring with over 19 points a game and shooting 45 percent from three-point land, the Bison have remained at the top of the class in the Summit League.
“Most of the time we run cutters with two out and three on the baseline and we get the three guys on the baseline a lot of penetration either in the middle (of the lane) or on the baseline,” Alexander said, explaining the fluidity of the Bison offense this season. “And that’s one thing Dave (Richman) tells us is ‘Shooters, get your feet and hands ready to shoot,’ and as you can see that’s mainly where our offense is coming from.”
The pace and space game of the Bison offense has paid dividends for the three-point marksmen like Alexander, Jacobson and emerging true-freshman Paul Miller.
Facilitating this style along with Alexander has been sophomore Carlin Dupree, who Bison fans remember as the savior during overtime against Oklahoma in the NCAA tournament.
“He’s our glue guy,” Alexander said. “Sometimes his stats are eye-popping and sometimes they’re not. Sometimes he has five assists but some times he has two, but he always seems to make the right play when we need it.”
Alexander is right. Dupree’s numbers, at times, have been funky this season.
During a game against IUPUI this season, Dupree only scored six points on 3-of-8 shooting, but he managed to contribute in other ways. Dupree had five steals and five rebounds to go along with four assists.
“I understand that I have a lot of shooters around me,” said Dupree, explaining his mentality while driving the lane. “When I get to the hole it’s going to clog up so we always tell our shooter to have their hands ready and all the person has to do is make that pass.”
The Bison have already proved the naysayers wrong this season by winning a share of the Summit League regular season title. With more players filling essential roles, the Bison aren’t done surprising people this season.
Is Lawrence Alexander the Summit League Player of the Year? Here’s how the stats matchup going into the conference tournament.