FARGO — It was just last March when Western Illinois became the first No. 8 seed in Summit League men’s basketball tournament history to beat a No. 1 seed. So the Leathernecks came to Fargo on Thursday night with an element of danger to them.
North Dakota State had no part of it.
Forward Tyson Ward nearly had a double-double in the first half alone and the Bison had little trouble at Scheels Center at Sanford Health Athletic Complex. The 94-74 victory was NDSU’s fifth in six games and moved the 10-5 Bison to 2-0 in the Summit League.
Western (4-8, 1-1) had no answer for Ward, who finished with 25 points, 11 rebounds and six assists. The 6-foot-6 senior was a matchup problem for the Leathernecks down low on the block and out in space around the 3-point arc.
“He’s playing at a phenomenal level right now,” Bison guard Vinnie Shahid said. “His confidence is through the roof and our team is doing a good job in situations where he can be successful. We trust him with the ball to make the right decision.”
Ward was one of four Bison in double figures. Shahid had 22 points, followed by Tyree Eady with 12, Cameron Hunter with 11 and Rocky Kreuser with 10. And this is a team that is down two starters because of injury.
It was a smooth night all around for head coach Dave Richman, who made note of his team’s 3.1 grade point average that came out Thursday.
“Really proud to be the coach of these guys today, 2-0 today,” he said. “Grades came out and terrific job by our guys. … It carried over onto the court.”
If the first several minutes of games were a problem for the Bison, they have cured that in a big way. About the biggest issue the Bison had in the first 20 minutes was foul trouble to their two big men. Both the 6-10 Kreuser and 6-9 Tyler Witz had two fouls in the first 15 minutes, forcing NDSU to go small against bigger Leatherneck players like 6-8, 240-pound Roderick Smith.
It didn’t matter, especially with Ward wheeling and dealing on the offensive end. WIU couldn’t keep up and Ward’s 14 first-half points gave NDSU a 50-34 lead at halftime.
The biggest lead was 19. Perhaps WIU head coach Billy Wright sensed something wasn’t right with his team when he took a timeout a minute into the game. Wright got a technical foul later in the half.
WIU never did chop the halftime deficit to single digits. It got to 12 on a couple occasions before Ward hit three straight hoops for a 67-47 lead with 12:22 remaining.
“We talked about that at half, they made a push out of the gates but we quieted it in a hurry,” Richman said.
The night was so productive for Ward that his dunk attempt that gave the Bison a 20-point advantage went in and out, and in again. As for an encore, Ward’s perfect alley-oop pass to Kreuser made it a 25-point game at the under eight-minute media time out.
“Just played my game,” Ward said. “The coaches and my teammates are putting me in the right spots and the right position where I can be effective.”
And it came against a team that was coming off a convincing win over the University of South Dakota.
“They’re really dangerous,” Shahid said. “They have four or five guys that can play basketball really well. That’s a team that tends to get overlooked and anybody can win in the Summit League. They’re a pretty good team and that’s why they have a chance on any night.”
WIU (4-8, 1-1 Summit): Pyle 2-9 0-0 5, Claar 1-2 0-0 2, Young 4-6 2-3 13, Webster 5-14 1-1 12, Duff 4-12 1-2 11, Jones 3-5 2-3 8, Arrington 1-2 3-4 5, King 1-2 0-0 3, Allen 0-1 0-0 0, Smith 7-11 1-2 15. Totals: 28-64 10-15 74.
NDSU (10-5, 2-0 Summit): Kreuser 4-9 2-2 10, Shahid 8-17 3-3 22, Eady 4-5 2-2 12, Hunter 3-7 4-4 11, Ward 9-15 5-5 25, Knotek 3-5 0-0 7, Witz 2-2 0-0 4, Quayle 0-1 0-0 0, Harden-Hayes 1-1 0-0 3, Wilson IV 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 34-63 16-16 94.
Halftime: NDSU 50, WIU 34. Total fouls: WIU 12, NDSU 17. Fouled out: none. Technical foul: WIU coach Wright. Rebounds: WIU 26 (Duff 5); NDSU 41 (Ward 11). 3-point goals: WIU 8-22 (Pyle 1-5, Young 3-4, Webster 1-4, Duff 2-6, King 1-2, Allen 0-1); NDSU 10-27 (Shahid 2-7, Kreuser 0-4, Eady 2-2, Ward 2-4, Hunter 1-4, Knotek 1-3, Harden-Hayes 1-1, Quayle 0-1). Assists: WIU 4 (Webster 2); NDSU 15 (Ward 6). Turnovers: WIU 7 (Pyle, King 2); NDSU 9 (Ward 3). A-1,929.