SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - This time, the No. 1 seed survived in the first round. Barely.
North Dakota State got two free throws from guard Vinnie Shahid with 6.4 seconds left, then blocked a couple of University of Denver attempts to tie it, the last by Sam Griesel at the buzzer, and the top-seeded Bison escaped the Denny Sanford Premier Center with a victory Saturday night.
“You come in, first-game jitters a bit,” said Bison senior Tyson Ward. “This is March. Everybody comes to play hard and that’s what you expect out of March Madness. It’s a good basketball game from whatever seed it is.”
The 71-69 win in the Summit League men’s basketball tournament moves the Bison into Monday’s semifinals. Last year, No. 1 seed South Dakota State went down to No. 8 Western Illinois and the table this year was set for another stunner with No. 8 Denver, which came in with a 7-23 record.
“It was a multitude of things,” said NDSU head coach Dave Richman. “Maybe we were a little tight. We addressed it all week, maybe we shouldn’t have talked about it. In the big picture, Denver played really well. They played hard like we knew they would.”
In what turned out to be the game-winning play, Shahid was fouled driving to the basket. He sank both free throws.
Denver’s Jase Townsend, who was a thorn in NDSU’s side the last 10 minutes, took the out-of-bounds pass and dribbled the length of the floor.
“As we came out of the time out, Jase says, ‘Coach, I got it,’” said Denver head coach Rodney Billups. “Six seconds left on the clock, I knew they gave us too much time. Jase typically settles for the jump shot.”
He didn’t this time, instead driving to the hoop. His attempt was swatted away by Rocky Kreuser into the arms of Denver’s Tristan Green. But Griesel was there to save the day at the buzzer with another block.
“What I thought I saw, I’m not trained to make a call but trained to make a play call," Billups said. "But what I thought I saw was some contact. It wasn’t called and that was the end of the game.”
The 6-foot-6 Griesel may have been just 3 of 8 from the field and 3 of 6 from the free throw line, but he was Townsend’s answer to being a thorn in the Pioneer side. He had 13 rebounds, six of the offensive variety to keep possessions alive.
“We just stayed together as a team,” Shahid said. “We’ve been in that situation before and it went both ways for us, good and bad.”
This one went good.
“We showed some tremendous poise down the stretch,” Richman said.
It was looking like another Bison first round win with a 10-point second half lead.
But it wasn’t much later when Denver freshman center Robert Jones scored nine straight points by himself midway in the second half to give the Pioneers a 59-52 advantage. The last field goal was a rebound dunk that got the Premier Center fans, especially those from No. 2 seed SDSU who played the late game on Saturday, on the DU side.
The Bison finally broke a five-minute funk with two Ward free throws and a Griesel 3-pointer to pull within two.
A 3-pointer from Townsend and Ade Murkey’s rebound bucket restored DU to a 64-57 lead with 6:31 left and the Bison were in trouble.
A 7-2 run got the Bison within a point. Shahid’s 3 with 1:22 left gave the Bison the lead at 67-65. Murkey’s layup tied it for DU at 1:04.
Ward, with the shot clock winding down, responded with a driving layup with 36 seconds remaining and it was 69-67. Townsend responded with an inside hoop 11 seconds later and the Bison had the last chance to break a tie in regulation.
Shahid broke through.
NDSU was without starting guard Tyree Eady, who was in street clothes because of concussion protocol from an injury suffered against Nebraska Omaha. His status for Monday is uncertain.
DU (7-24): Jones 10-12 1-4 21, Green 1-1 0-0 2, Murkey 8-23 1-1 17, Townsend 9-17 0-1 20, Gatlin 2-6 0-0 5, Kurnaz 0-1 2-2 2, Bickham 1-1 0-0 2, Eastmond 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 31-62 4-8 69.
NDSU (23-8): Griesel 3-8 3-6 10, Kreuser 1-6 4-4 7, Shahid 7-13 5-6 22, Samuelson 2-5 0-0 6, Ward 7-19 6-7 20, Hunter 1-4 1-2 4, Witz 0-0 0-1 0, Knotek 1-2 0-0 2, Quayle 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 22-57 19-26 71.
Halftime: NDSU 36, DU 30. Total fouls: DU 24, NDSU 12. Fouled out: Green. Rebounds: DU 39 (Murkey 13); NDSU 35 (Griesel 13). 3-point goals: DU 3-10 (Murkey 0-2, Townsend 2-5, Gatlin 1-3); NDSU 8-22 (Griesel 1-2, Kreuser 1-5, Shahid 3-4, Samuelson 2-5, Ward 0-3, Hunter 1-2, Knotek 0-1). Assists: DU 11 (Murkey 4); NDSU 7 (Shahid, Ward 2). Turnovers: DU 11 (three with 2); NDSU 8 (Shahid, Hunter 3).