FARGO — North Dakota State is getting serious at making a run for the Summit League regular season men’s basketball title. With point guard Vinnie Shahid driving the bus, the Bison have as good of a chance as anybody at a No. 1 tournament seed.
The senior point guard had a career-high 31 points Saturday afternoon against Oral Roberts in another of a long line of all-conference type of games. That included an offensive outburst toward the end of the first half that was about as good as it gets and the Bison went on to take an 83-76 victory.
“I can be a heck of a passenger when he’s driving the bus,” said NDSU head coach Dave Richman. “Vinnie is a really, really good player and because of his ‘it’ factor that he has — and understanding the moments — he becomes a great player and you saw that for the better part of 40 minutes tonight.”
NDSU followed three straight road wins with a decent performance against the Golden Eagles in front of 3,715 fans at Scheels Center at Sanford Health Athletic Complex.
There were several minutes of flash. There were a couple stretches in the second half that were so-so. After all was said and done, the victory over the Golden Eagles kept the Bison on pace with South Dakota State for first place in the standings.
“I have to remind myself that at the end of the day all wins are pretty,” Richman said. “Certainly that was ugly for stretches.”
The seventh win in the last eight games has the Bison at 9-2 in the league and 18-7 overall with five games left in the regular season. That includes the Jackrabbits at home at the end of the month.
It was the second straight game, however, that the Bison had to overcome some early sluggish play and had too many turnovers for Richman’s liking. They had 15 against Oral Roberts.
It came against a Golden Eagles team that played without leading scorer Emmanuel Nzekwesi because of a knee injury suffered Thursday night at the University of North Dakota. He’s missed a handful of games this season, but is still averaging 16.4 points per game while shooting 57 percent.
“Nzekwesi is a big body,” said Bison forward Sam Griesel. “When you take a (6-foot-8, 240-pound) post player out of the game, it’s going to open up things for other players to get rebounds.”
Guard Deondre Burns softened his absence. He hit his first seven shots in leading ORU to a 10-point lead in the first half.
“Our urgency and effort on defense wasn’t there to start the game today,” Shahid said. “It’s something we have to work on. He was playing well, it’s tough to stop a guy when his confidence is that high.”
NDSU weathered Burns' early output thanks to Shahid and a 16-0 run that erased a 30-20 deficit. Shahid answered Burns with 6 of 7 first-half treys and the Bison took a 47-35 lead at halftime.
“He made 3s,” said ORU head coach Paul Mills of Shahid.
For the most part, the NDSU surge was done with five guards on the floor, something Richman has gone to this season. That pace slowed in the second half, however. Eight free throws and Max Abmas’ field goal got ORU under a double-digit deficit for the first time since the first half and it was 63-55 with eight minutes left.
It was 64-57 when Mills received a technical foul that appeared to hurt ORU. NDSU responded with six straight points, four on free throws by Shahid, and restored order leading 70-57 with 6:06 remaining.
The Bison put four players in double figures with Griesel contributing 13 points in one of his best efforts since returning from a knee injury. He said he’s felt 100% in the last week.
“Today was probably the most comfortable I’ve been since I’ve been back,” he said.
The Bison host Purdue-Fort Wayne next Friday, giving them a break after the most grueling stretch of the season. It’s time for a break, Richman said, giving his team two days away from the gym.
“We’ve been together so much, been on the road, just mental fatigue and some edge to us — some good, some not so good,” Richman said. “It’s certainly great we got this win and now we’ll catch our breath for a minute.”
ORU (12-12, 5-6 Summit): Obanor 6-12 7-9 20, Lufile 0-3 3-4 3, Burns 11-21 3-4 26, Abmas 5-9 4-4 17, Fuqua 0-4 1-2 1, Lacis 1-3 0-0 3, Kearns 0-2 6-6 6, Saunders 0-0 0-0 0, Lazenby 0-1 0-0 0, Jones 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 23-55 24-29 76.
NDSU (18-7, 9-2 Summit): Kreuser 6-11 2-2 14, Shahid 8-14 9-9 31, Eady 1-3 1-2 3, Samuelson 2-7 4-4 10, Ward , Griesel , Hunter 0-1 0-0 0, Witz 0-0 0-0 0, Quayle 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 27-51 21-25 83.
Halftime: NDSU 47, ORU 35. Total fouls: ORU 20, NDSU 20. Fouled out: Fuqua. Technical foul: ORU head coach Mills. Rebounds: ORU 27 (Obanor 8); NDSU 33 (Kreuser 7). 3-point goals: ORU 6-15 (Obanor 1-3, Burns 1-1, Abmas 3-4, Fuqua 0-1, Lacis 1-3, Kearns 0-2, Lazenby 0-1); NDSU 8-22 (Kreuser 0-2, Shahid 6-10, Eady 0-1, Samuelson 2-7, Ward 0-1, Hunter 0-1). Assists: ORU 7 (Burns 2); NDSU 13 (Ward 6). Turnovers: ORU 8 (Abmas 2); NDSU 15 (three with 3). A-3,715.