SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - It’s not often a basketball player goes 3 of 8 from the field and 3 of 6 from the free throw line and is in consideration for player-of-the-game honors. At North Dakota State, that distinction usually fits one guy.
“Sam,” said Bison head coach Dave Richman.
That would be sophomore Sam Griesel, who this season has become a prime example that there’s more to the game than shooting. He saved NDSU from a first-round upset on Saturday night blocking a last-second University of Denver shot to preserve a 71-69 Bison victory in the Summit League Tournament.
NDSU will play the winner of Sunday night’s Nebraska Omaha and Oral Roberts winner Monday at 6 p.m. in the semifinals at the Denny Sanford Premier Center.
Griesel finished with 10 points. And his free throw woes included missing two front ends of bonus free throws. But he led everybody with 13 rebounds, with seven of those of the offensive kind that helped keep upstart Denver from taking bigger leads against the Bison.
“Honestly, I just try to go where the other team isn’t,” Griesel said. “It sounds pretty simple but that’s pretty much all it is. It’s just having to compete and have the mindset that I’m going to get the ball if I see it come off the rim.”
Well, there’s more to it than that. Griesel has length at 6-foot-6 with arms that seemingly can touch a ball more often than most players. His rebound totals over the last few weeks don’t include balls he’s tipped to teammates.
It’s what keeps him on the floor. He’s averaging 6.5 points per game and is shooting 42 percent from the field.
“I’ve always played hard,” Griesel said, “but I’d say more of the gritty, toughness-type plays are definitely something I’ve picked up in college.”
He may not be 100 percent healthy, either. He missed 11 games this season with two different knee injuries. His presence against Denver was even more critical with starting guard Tyree Eady out because of concussion protocol. Eady’s status is day-to-day.
Griesel’s status is what Richman calls “winning plays.”
“I just can’t say enough about his performance,” Richman said.
And especially the final play. Griesel said he saw Denver guard Jase Townsend driving the right baseline. He saw Townsend’s shot beginning to go long, so he positioned himself on the opposite side of the rim with a couple other Denver players.
“Their big man got the ball and luckily I was there,” Griesel said. “I kind of jumped at the same time he did so I just put my hand up and got a hand on it. There was a lot of commotion in there and a lot of noise with the SDSU fans. Once I hit the ball, I figured it was over but I was still kind of on edge.”
South Dakota State played the second game Saturday night. Unlike the Bison, the No. 2 seeded Jackrabbits didn’t survive losing to Purdue-Fort Wayne.
The Jacks couldn’t make a Griesel-like play in the closing seconds.
“When the moment was present, he was present in the moment,” Richman said. “We needed every bit of it last night.”