Bison shooters heat up Frost Arena

Robert Myers


 Excellent shooting and a 13-0 second half scoring run aided the NDSU Bison as they defeated the SDSU men’s basketball team 85-77 in Saturday night’s Frost Arena shootout.

NDSU entered the game loaded with veteran talent and preseason favorites to carry home a Summit League title. Meanwhile, the Jacks were hoping to start a run that would help them defend their conference crown. All these aspirations only added to the rivalry and atmosphere at Frost Arena where last season the Jacks defeated the Bison after rallying from a six point halftime deficit.

In the first minute of play, Brayden Carlson guided the Jacks to an early 3-2 lead thanks to his first of three three-pointers. Both sides battled back and forth in an offensively charged half during which the lead changed 12 times. Highlighting the half was Jake Bittle’s steal and corresponding layup which gave the Jacks a 37-35 lead, their last lead of the game as NDSU closed out the half by scoring six straight to take a 41-39 lead into the locker room.

Although a jumper by Jordan Dykstra excited a home crowd of 4,859 people to start the second half, the Bison answered with a 13-0 scoring run that the Jacks would prove unable to recover from. 

“We got five, six stops in a row,” NDSU center Marshall Bjorklund said. “That’s kind of what propelled that [scoring run]. Last time we were here we came out of the gates in the second half and they kind of stuck it to us and so we made sure that didn’t happen this time.”

Despite being down, the Jacks never did give up. Instead they fought back even harder. With 12:56 left, Carlson stole the ball and drove the length of the court for a layup. A minute and a half later, Chad White drained a three to shrink the Bison lead to 58-52. 

NDSU quickly responded to go back up by 13, but the Jacks didn’t give up. 

With 3:19 to play, Cody Larson fought for a rebound and promptly scored a basket despite being fouled on the play, to cut the Bison lead to nine.

“We were on the verge of ending the game and we just couldn’t shake them,” NDSU head coach Saul Phillips said. “We missed a couple front ends, but boy. When Frost starts shaking like that and when everything’s piling in on you. Our guys seemed to embrace that moment and that’s a good place to be.”

With 1:51 to play, another three-pointer by White brought the Jacks within six points. Then with 0:42 left Jordan Dykstra sank a three, trimming the Bison lead to 80-75. A layup by Carlson kept the difference at five and 0:19 left, however by that time, the Jacks had run out of time. Three added free throws from the Bison finished off the game.

The Bison shot 56.3 percent from the field for the game, a 53.3 percent on three-pointers and 82.1 percent from the free throw line where they made 23 of 28 shots. Leading the NDSU charge was Taylor Braun who scored 30 points on game, 22 of them coming in the second half. 

“Taylor was big down the stretch,” Phillips said. “He had a calmness about him all day long. I can’t really describe it, but from the moment he got up when we saw his face at breakfast he was just very confident, just loose, confident. That really bled into everybody else. Then when it came time to make plays, he made a lot of them.”

Carlson led the Jacks’ attack, scoring 22 to go with four assists, three rebounds, and a pair of steals in 39 minutes of play. Dykstra also put up strong numbers with 17 points and eight rebounds. Leading a strong three-point attack was White who made four of seven from long range en route to 16 points, four rebounds, and five assists. Larson also finished in double figures for the Jacks with 14 points and seven rebounds.

Despite shooting the ball very well for the most of the afternoon, 50 percent from the field for the game and 41.7 percent on three-pointers, their defense continued to be the Jacks’ Achilles heel, a fact head coach Scott Nagy was very blunt about.

“I don’t really care about our offense just because all of the sudden Chad’s shooting the ball better,” Nagy said. “He’d have to shoot it a heck of a lot better for us to win that basketball game. This has nothing to do with offense. Our defense is just not very good right now. … I can’t believe there’s a worse percentage defense in the league than us right now.”

In Nagy’s mind the end result of the season – whether the team wins the Summit League or finds themselves somewhere in the middle of the pack depends primarily on defense. 

“We have a team that could win every game they played the rest of the way,” Nagy said. “But our defense would have to change a lot in order for that to happen. Some of it has to fall on our coaching staff to figure that out and some of it falls to our players.” 

If Nagy seemed any less animated on his feet, it can likely be attributed to the fact that he coached the game barefoot in support for Samaritan’s Feet, an organization which seeks to provide shoes for children in need all over the world. 

The Jacks will return to action Thursday, Jan. 30 when they travel to the University of Denver (10-10, 3-2) in hopes of breaking their two game losing skid. 

“Every one [game] is a must win at this point,” Dykstra said. “We’re 2-3 in the Summit League and that’s not really acceptable. We’re not used to losing. We don’t like losing. We’ll come in on Monday and work hard and try to get better.