FARGO - Let the march to madness begin. North Dakota State clinched a share of the Summit League regular season men’s basketball title on Saturday and, more importantly, will take the No. 1 seed into the Summit tournament that starts next weekend in Sioux Falls, S.D.
The Bison, the tourney defending champions that earned them a berth in the NCAA tournament for the fourth time in school history last year, will play No. 8 seed University of Denver at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday night at the Denny Sanford Premier Center.
The Bison tied South Dakota State at 13-3 for the regular season title after taking down Nebraska-Omaha 87-67 on Saturday afternoon. NDSU got the tiebreaker by virtue of having a better record over third-place University of South Dakota.
“It’s a big deal,” said Bison senior guard Chris Quayle. “We’re excited for it. We’re going to enjoy this one today and lock in on that tomorrow and get focused on that.”
NDSU swept the Coyotes while USD and SDSU split during the regular season. It was NDSU’s best regular season Summit finish since going 12-2 in 2013-14, a year that saw the Bison winning the league tournament and upsetting Oklahoma 80-75 in the first round of the NCAA tournament in Spokane, Wash.
“I’m going to make it crystal clear,” said Bison head coach Dave Richman. “We’re going to enjoy this but we have bigger goals and bigger aspirations and that will start with a terrific week of practice this week.”
The best Summit regular season since the Bison joined the league in 2007 was 16-2 in 2008-09 when NDSU advanced to the NCAA tournament in its first year of being eligible after a Division I reclassification. This year’s regular season title was the Bison’s fourth joining the 2009, 2014 and 2015 teams.
“It means a lot for the program and we’re happy to do it,” said Bison guard Jared Samuelson.
The Bison won the tournament last year despite being the No. 4 seed with a 9-7 mark. NDSU was a preseason favorite to win the Summit regular season title this year and met that goal on Saturday.
“It means a lot,” Richman said. “In mid-major basketball, I don’t think the regular season gets enough credit. There’s so much talked about March Madness and that’s what makes it special, but you go back to right after Christman, it’s been a long journey.”
The journey included injuries to Samuelson and Sam Griesel. Both have been back for a few weeks and NDSU will take its full team to Sioux Falls.
“Plenty of ups and downs,” Richman said. “But the thing that was special about this afternoon was this version of us was out there. And I’ve been tough on the guys, even through some wins. I saw this version of us and it was really on both ends.”
On the flipside, Richman said he’s scared of the words “comfort” and “off.”
“I challenge these guys hard every day for moments and rewards like today,” he said. “There’s another one coming up here in a couple Tuesdays hopefully as well.”
NDSU swept Denver this season winning 66-55 to start Summit play on Dec. 29 and 82-70 at the SHAC in late January. The Pioneers, who were tied with Western Illinois for last place coming into Saturday, ended Western's season with a 69-63 win.