Photo By Dave Eggen/Inertia
We have seen a maturation take place throughout the course of this basketball season in Fargo. Not only has the entire North Dakota State men’s team grown as a unit, but individuals are beginning to show their expansion as well.
There may not be a better example of that on this roster than Tyson Ward.
Ward has no doubt had his share of struggles in his time in Fargo. The Tampa, Florida, native even had to sit out a game this season by way of coach’s decision. While his calm, easy-going, fun-loving demeanor on and off the court can seem like immaturity to some, Ward is simply showing his love for the game. For his teammates, his personality is infectious. It is true that he has dealt with that maturity question time and time again and he would readily admit to the points where he fell short in that category.
However, over the course of this 35-game season, Ward has not only grown personally but as a player too. There is no better evidence of that than his All-Tournament performance at the Summit League Tournament. He was dominant offensively, seemingly doing anything he wanted inside the lane and outside. For Ward, he says he needed to change his mentality towards basketball, that is what led to his incredible stretch run.
“Changing my approach to the game. Those last three games, I took some time and thought about it and I was like ‘wow, I only got what, 30, maybe 35 more games in my career as a Bison’ and why not go out for the next 35 and go as hard as I can?” Ward said. “I really think I took for granted the last couple of years and I just put myself into a different mindset getting prepared for games. It just transferred over to the game and I can’t really describe it, but I felt like a different version.”
Ward scored 15 points and grabbed seven rebounds in North Dakota State’s 73-63 win over Omaha in the Summit League Tournament Championship. He recalls the final moments of the game fondly. “Funny thing is me and Jared [Samuelson] were talking and he said to me ‘we’re going dancing’ when Vinnie [Shahid] was at the line. I was like ‘bro, it’s not over’ and he said ‘man, it’s over’ and I just sat there and they subbed in and I shook Mitch Hahn and Zach Jackson’s hand and it just hit me,” he said. “We proved a lot of people wrong, we believed in ourselves all the way through and got to that point. It just felt like a relief, your dream as a little 10-year-old kid is coming true. It’s surreal.”
Without Ward, you could make the case that North Dakota State does not defeat North Carolina Central in the First Four. He had a game-high 23 points and was the main source of offensive for the Bison down the stretch.
The junior forward increased his numbers in every major statistical category this season. He scored 12 points per game while averaging six rebounds a contest. The most impressive thing? Ward shot 49 percent from the field, nearly three percentage points higher than last year. That’s not to say Ward and his teammates didn’t see their fair share of struggles. When asked what the turning point in the season was for this team, Ward picked an unlikely moment.
“I feel like it was the Denver game, for all of us. After that game, we sat down and we were just done, we were tired of losing. We sat down and asked ourselves what we really wanted to do. The first thing we did was we filled out our goal sheets and the first thing was a Summit League Championship,” Ward said. At the time of that game, Denver was last in the Summit League and had yet to win a conference game. “We came back to practice and we went at each other, we made each other better every day, the young guys getting on the older guys, the older guys getting on the younger guys, preparing for those big moments throughout that stretch. Those last couple of games we played, they were close games and just preparing ourselves to be great and to be in this moment right now. I think that’s where it really happened, after that Denver game.”
As Ward referenced earlier, he feels this team did prove plenty of people wrong this season. He says it does feel great to prove those doubters wrong, but that was not the team’s focus. Their focus was to be so good on the floor that fans would flock to the Scheels Center for games.
“It just felt great. You just want your fans to be happy with you. We went for a rough stretch and we wanted everybody to come back for more and we knew we had more in the tank. We wanted fans in the stands and I think that is what really helped us go,” he said. “There is just a lot of, not doubt, that we were loved, but we just really wanted everybody to be here and watch us. We knew how much energy and talent we had, it was right there, we just needed to know how to break it open.”
Ward will now head into his senior season with 97 games as a Bison under his belt. That experience will surely prove beneficial as this team eyes a return trip to the Summit League Championship and NCAA Tournament. However, it’s no secret that the evolution of Tyson Ward as a player and person is not yet complete. That is an exciting precedent.