His nickname is L.A. On Thursday night, North Dakota State point guard Lawrence Alexander was every bit showtime under the brightest lights of all in the NCAA Tournament, scoring a career-high 28 points in leading the Bison to a dramatic, come-from-behind 80 – 75 second round win against Oklahoma. Whenever the Bison needed a play, the script called for Alexander to play the hero. None was bigger than his game-tying three pointer that sent the second round matchup with the Sooners into overtime. With only twelve seconds left on the clock, trailing 66 – 63 and facing elimination, Alexander buried a three from the right wing infront of NDSU’s bench to tie things up.
In the timeout before the shot, NDSU head coach Saul Phillips drew up a play designed for Taylor Braun, the Summit League player of the year. “It was a dribble iso for Taylor,” said Phillips. With nothing open, Braun found Alexander for what proved to be the game’s decisive shot. “He [Braun] didn’t have it, he stayed patient, and where it says on the play by play, it says made three by Lawrence Alexander, right under that it says assist Taylor Braun.” It was Braun’s only assist of the game, but what an assist for the folks back home in Fargo, N.D.
Alexander never left the game, playing all 40 minutes in regulation and the 5 minutes in overtime. Heading into the critical possession, Alexander told Braun to look for him on the wing if there was nothing open. “Supposed to be a quick iso, but coming out of the huddle I told him if you don’t have anything I’ll be right there in the right wing,” said Alexander. And, sure enough, there Alexander was, right where he told Braun that he’d be. “He just gave me the bounce pass and I took the shot.” The shot found nothing but the bottom of the net and sent Spokane’s Veterans Memorial Arena into a frenzy of, “Let’s Go Bison,” cheers.
Befitting the hero’s role, Alexander was confident in the shot as soon as it left his hand. During the post game press conference, the two Bison stars talked about what, to date, is the biggest shot in school history. “And what did you say when it was in the air,” Braun asked Alexander, both of them enjoying the moment. Alexander replied with one word and an ear-to-ear smile, “Buckets.” Phillips joined the act, jokingly kidding Alexander, “That’s a lot of confidence there, big fella.” In the locker room celebration following the game, Phillips summed up the shot. “Wow, wow, wow. Hey, L.A., simply one of the biggest shots in school history. You’re going to be on one shining moment,” Phillips said, referencing the CBS montage played after the Final Four’s national championship game.
Alexander was everywhere for the Bison, adding eight rebounds and four assists to go with his 28 points. Alexander bested his Oklahoma counterparts, looking every bit the equal as the Big XII players, beating them to the rim on numerous occasions for slashing layups. Alexander finished 10-for-15 from the field, including hitting all four of his free throws in the overtime session. His record performance comes on the heels of what was one of the toughest games in Alexander’s career.
In the Summit League Tournament championship game in Sioux Falls, Alexander struggled against Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne. On the way to Spokane, Braun told Alexander he would have a big game against the Sooners. “L.A. said something about he didn’t even need to come down here because he played so bad in Sioux Falls,” explained Braun. Braun didn’t let his teammate stay down for long. “I said you played bad down there, but you’re going to step up here today and you did.”
Now, Braun, Alexander, and the rest of their teammates find themselves on the brink of the Sweet 16. “It’s going to be fun,” said Alexander of Saturday’s game. “We’re not going down without a fight. We’ll give our best punch and whatever happens, happens.”