SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - For the second straight year, North Dakota State is headed to the prime time game in the Summit League men’s basketball tournament. Junior guard Cameron Hunter hit eight straight free throws in the final minute of Monday night's semifinals and the Bison will have a chance to get back to the NCAA tournament for the second straight year.
The 75-69 win over Oral Roberts at the Denny Sanford Premier Center puts the Bison in the 8 p.m. title game on Tuesday against North Dakota, which claimed a 73-56 semifinal win over Purdue-Fort Wayne. NDSU, 24-8, will be going for its fifth NCAA appearance.
The teams split during the regular season with ORU winning by six points at home and the Bison defeating the Golden Eagles by seven in Fargo. So the rubber match on a neutral floor predictably went down to the wire.
“It’s March, every team is hungry and nobody wants to go home,” said Bison guard Vinnie Shahid. “So everybody is fighting with their all and in this game, we got stops at the end of the game.”
Leading 63-59, NDSU’s Sam Griesel blocked an ORU shot underneath, which could have been the key stop of the game.
“Sam is a winner,” Shahid said. “Whatever we need him to do, he’s going to do it. We can count on Sam to do it in big moments and that’s what he did tonight when he got that block.”
NDSU followed that with a tip-in by Shahid, who put back his own miss with 58 seconds remaining to make it 65-59. ORU guard R.J. Fuqua cut it to four with an in-close shot. He cut NDSU’s lead to 68-65 with another layup at :33.
Hunter hit four straight unanswered free throws after that.
“We made some big-time winning plays down the stretch,” said Bison head coach Dave Richman. “Cameron Hunter, a guy who’s been in and out of the lineup and had some adversity this year and struggled at times, made some huge plays.”
Hunter was part of a Bison lineup that went smaller in the second half against an ORU team that had a decided size advantage.
“Just be more physical,” said Bison senior Tyson Ward. “They have a lot of big dudes down there and you have to help out Sam rebounding.”
The Bison countered it with better quickness underneath. Richman pointed to NDSU players fronting ORU down low.
“We have tough players,” he said. “This program is defined by toughness and togetherness. These guys aren’t going to be scared of a fight, I can tell you that.”
The Bison were the tougher team in the first several minutes of the second half scoring the first seven points. Ward’s two free throws with 17:59 left made it 40-30. Later, Rocky Kreuser’s dunk gave the Bison a 42-32 lead with ORU calling a time out to try and halt the NDSU momentum.
Kevin Obanor’s three-point play cut the Bison lead in half with 15 minutes left. Deondre Burns’ 15-foot jumper tied it at 47-47 at 11:36. Obanor’s rebound bucket 30 seconds later gave ORU its first lead since early in the game.
“Obanor played well,” said Oral Roberts head coach Paul Mills.
NDSU withstood the surge, however, with an 8-2 run to take a five-point advantage. Obanor erased that with five points of his own and ORU was staying close with its leading scorer, 6-foot-8, 240-pound forward Emmanuel Nzekwesi, on the bench with four fouls.
He returned with 4:29 left and the Bison leading 60-57. Nzekwesi finished 1 of 10 from the field and two points. Asked how NDSU was able to take him out of the game, Mills said, “I didn’t think they did.”
Mills said ORU playing on back-to-back nights made it for a “tough game.” He pointed to NDSU’s 24 of 29 free throw shooting compared to ORU’s 11 of 12 as a difference.
“We dominated the paint points 36-20 but if the other team shoots 29 free throws,” he said. “I really don’t know how that happens when the majority of your points are coming from the paint. But if they’re going to shoot 17 more free throws, it’s strange, especially when you dominate the paint points like that.”
As they’ve done so many times this season, Ward and Shahid led the offense with 21 and 17 points respectively. Hunter added 12 points with his late free throws splurge.
ORU (17-14): Obanor 10-16 6-6 27, Nzekwesi 1-10 0-0 2, Burns 6-16 0-1 13, Abmas 0-7 2-2 2, Fuqua 9-14 3-3 23, Lacis 0-1 0-0 0, Kearns 0-3 0-0 0, Saunders 1-1 0-0 2. Totals: 27-68 11-12 69.
NDSU (24-8): Griesel 3-10 2-4 9, Kreuser 3-5 0-0 8, Shahid 6-13 2-3 17, Samuelson 1-4 1-2 3, Ward 5-14 8-8 21, Witz 2-6 1-2 5, Knotek 0-3 0-0 0, Hunter 1-4 10-10 12, Quayle 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 21-59 24-29 75.
Halftime: NDSU 33, ORU 30. Total fouls: ORU 21, NDSU 15. Fouled out: none. Rebounds: ORU 40 (Obanor 10); NDSU 39 (Kreuser 8). 3-point goals: ORU 4-16 (Obanor 1-2, Nzekwesi 0-1, Burns 1-2, Abmas 0-3, Fuqua 2-4, Lacis 0-1, Kearns 0-3); NDSU 9-24 (Griesel 1-2, Kreuser 2-3, Shahid 3-5, Samuelson 0-3, Ward 3-8, Knotek 0-1, Hunter 0-2). Assists: ORU 7 (Burns 3); NDSU 11 (Shahid 4). Turnovers: ORU 7 (Nzekwesi 3); NDSU 6 (Shahid 3).