SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - The Summit League women’s basketball semifinals are set for Monday afternoon with some team that hasn’t seen that light of day since 2009. Have the Dark Ages finally ended for North Dakota State?
The Bison outlasted the University of Denver 72-68 Sunday afternoon at the Denny Sanford Premier Center, the first conference tourney victory for NDSU since 2009. It was 11 years to the day to be exact.
“This is historic for us,” said Bison freshman guard Ryan Cobbins, “and it’s something we have to continue to get used to.”
The last tourney victory came against Western Illinois, the first year NDSU was in the Summit after a five-year Division I reclassification ended.
“Before I got here it had been a long time,” said NDSU head coach Jory Collins, in his first year. “I know what my expectations are. I know this is round one of a conference tournament game and I expect to win those games regardless of what the history has been here before. And I want our players to start feeling like that is the expectation.”
The expectation of winning close games got better as the season went on, also.
Trailing 66-61 after Michelle Gaislerova’s jumper with 1:18 remaining, the Pioneers scored five straight to tie it. The last two, a layup by Madison Nelson at 46 seconds, came after a Bison turnover.
Cobbins rescued the Bison, getting a layup in traffic with 20 seconds left to make it 68-66. There was no secret who the Pioneers were going to go to. Nelson finished with 33 points.
After a DU time out, Nelson almost got tied up by the Bison before the Pioneers called another time out at 13.5 seconds.
“It felt like we lost our minds a bit and let the momentum of the game get to us,” Nelson said, “and didn’t stay calm.”
Denver turned it over on an attempted pass inside and Rylee Nudell went to the free throw line with 5.9 seconds left. She made both for a two-possession advantage.
“We had a crucial turnover at the end of the game,” said Denver head coach Kayla Ard. “But that isn’t what lost us the game. We decided to turn it on and take it off today. I thought we were more focused than what we were.”
Nelson scored on the other end to cut the lead to 70-68, but Bison guard Nicole Scales sealed it with two more free throws with 2.9 seconds remaining. Both bounced around the rim before falling through.
“I’ve seen it go the other way too many times,” Nudell said of the final seconds. “We just put our trust in Jory and what he had drawn up for us and executed in those last 20 seconds.”
After three tries at a victory at the tourney, the senior Nudell finally broke through. She had an odd statistical night getting a double-double without scoring a basket. She had 12 points on 12 for 12 free throw shooting and 12 rebounds.
“Free throws are important,” she said. “I couldn’t even get a layup to go but those free throws were really helpful.”
Said Collins: “Rylee had a double-double without making a basket, might be the first time I’ve seen one of those.”
It couldn’t have started any better for the Bison, who were sharp in taking a 24-13 lead after the first quarter. The good vibe didn’t last, however.
NDSU got a 3-pointer from Cobbins, but that was it in the first seven minutes of the second quarter. An 11-0 run got the Pioneers within a point, but the Bison survived the onslaught to take a 34-30 halftime lead.
Denver took its first lead of the game midway through the third quarter, which ended tied at 47-47 heading into the final 10 minutes. It was a quarter where foul trouble on both teams factored into the equation.
Nelson picked up her fourth with 5:30 remaining and her team trailing 58-57. NDSU took advantage of the absence of the 6-1 center forging a pair of five-point leads getting two buckets underneath from center Emily Dietz.
NDSU had a couple of chances to extend its advantage but couldn’t convert. In the end, it didn’t end up costing the Bison.
“Because we’re not uber-talented, we don’t separate from anybody in games,” Collins said. “But we’ve been in a ton of situational time outs. I’ve grown a ton this year with the opportunity to coach in those spots and our players have, too.”
The Bison now face South Dakota State Monday at 2:30 p.m. The University of South Dakota will play Oral Roberts in the other semifinal at noon.
“We’re going to try and keep it going,” Nudell said.
NDSU 24 34 47 72
DU 13 30 47 68
NDSU (11-18): Nudell 0-4 12-12 12, Dietz 4-5 0-0 8, Zivaljevic 3-7 2-5 8, Cobbins 7-15 2-2 18, Gaislerova 5-15 0-0 12, Voegeli 1-1 0-0 2, Scales 2-5 2-2 7, Rimdal 1-4 0-0 2, Terrer van Gool 0-1 0-0 0, Skibiel 1-2 0-0 3. Totals: 24-59 18-23.
DU (15-15): Nelson 14-29 3-5 33, Boyd 4-11 0-0 10, Johnson 0-8 0-0 0, Loven 3-13 0-0 7, Gritt 1-4 6-6 8, Foster 3-6 0-0 6, Jeffcoat 1-1 0-0 2, Ezedu 1-5 0-0 2. Totals: 27-77 9-11.
Total fouls: NDSU 23, DU 20. Fouled out: none. Rebounds: NDSU 45 (Nudell 12); DU 39 (Nelson 10). 3-point goals: NDSU 6-20 (Nudell 0-1, Cobbins 2-2, Zivaljevic 0-1, Gaislerova 2-5, Scales 1-4, Rimdal 0-2, Skibiel 1-1); DU 5-22 (Nelson 2-4, Boyd 2-6, Johnson 0-2, Loven 1-7, Gritt 0-2, Foster 0-1). Assists: NDSU 14 (Nudell, Cobbins 4); DU 11 (Johnson 3). Turnovers: NDSU 19 (Zivaljevic 7); DU 12 (Loven 3).