Sioux Falls, S.D.
At this rate, maybe North Dakota State will be known as a basketball school.
If Ben Woodside, Taylor Braun and Lawrence Alexander couldn't do enough to turn Bison fans' brains away from football for a few months a year, maybe Vinnie Shahid and Tyson Ward can do the trick.
If you didn't like what you saw Tuesday night at the Denny Sanford Premier Center in the Summit League Tournament championship, if you're an NDSU fan and that didn't turn your crank, I'm not sure what will.
In a new chapter added to the long history of the NDSU-North Dakota rivalry -- the schools playing for a berth in the NCAA men's basketball tournament -- the Bison started slugging from the opening tip and didn't stop until the Fighting Hawks were battered and dazed.
NDSU was Conor McGregor. UND was Mr. Bean. It was that big of a mismatch. The good folks who run the ESPN networks from Bristol, Conn., were probably looking for an old tape of Australian Rules Football for alternative programming.
"I knew it was in us. We kept working toward this moment. For it to come out at this moment on this stage is a little surprising. But I knew we had this game in us," NDSU coach David Richman said.
The final score was 89-53 for the Bison, clinching its fifth berth in the NCAAs in the 11 years they've been eligible as a member of Division I.
It's the fourth time in seven years NDSU is going to the Big Dance and the third time in six years under Richman.
If that doesn't define "basketball school," what does?
Although even the Bison were reluctant to label the school.
"We're an athletic department school. We're good at a lot of things. We do everything," a beaming Shahid said moments before accepting the tournament's most valuable player award as several dozen Bison fans who stormed the court chanted, "Vinnie! Vinnie! Vinnie!"
This trip was mostly on the shoulders of seniors Shahid, the point guard, and Ward, the dynamic forward. There was plenty of help during the season from Rocky Kreuser, Jared Samuelson, Cameron Hunter, Sam Griesel and Tyree Eady, but this was Shahid's and Ward's team.
And their game.
Both were brilliant against UND.
Shahid's first-half shooting defined NDSU's clinical dismantling of the Hawks. His defense defined a lockdown that assured UND and star Marlon Stewart were not going to repeat a 71-68 victory they captured in Grand Forks in late February.
Stewart had 35 points that day, including a game-winning 3-pointer with 0.9 seconds remaining.
That game gave UND, the tournament's sixth seed, hope it could upset the top-seeded Bison.
But after a 3 for 11 start from the field, which still resulted in a 9-0 lead with 14:39 left in the first half because of UND's uptight frigidity, the Bison went on a blitzkrieg that buried UND.
Over the next 6 minutes, 24 seconds the Bison outscored the Hawks 23-10. The game, then 32-10 in favor of NDSU, was over in a flash.
Shahid, Ward, Kreuser, Samuelson and Jaxon Knotek swished 3-pointers during the run. Ward added a driving layup, was fouled, and made the free throw. Shahid drove for a layup. Shahid made a couple of free throws.
Heck, even backup center Tyler Witz, used mostly to give Kreuser a few moments of rest, made a fine low-post move for a bucket.
The Bison went 6 for 8 from the floor and 3 for 3 from the free throw line in the stretch. It was a blur.
"We were sharing the ball. We were moving and passing the ball with confidence," Shahid said. "When you pass the ball with confidence, you shoot the ball with confidence. That's what we were doing."
"We just got the ball moving a lot, we really got it moving. Vinnie and Tyson did a great job of getting into the paint and passing the ball to give us good looks. It's a confidence thing. Once you make one, you make another and they just kept going in," he said.
The score at halftime was 49-22. Shahid had 16 points, making 4 of 7 from the field and 6 of 6 from the line.
He finished with 25 points. Ward had 23 points, 13 rebounds and was 5 of 5 on 3-pointers. Shahid and Ward combined to go 16 of 27 from the field.
As for Stewart, he was mostly in the shadows. During NDSU's killer first-half stretch, he barely took a shot. He finished the first half with six points and had 12 for the game.
"He's a really good player. We knew that. We just made him see bodies, all the time. Just see bodies. We put a little extra effort into guarding him today, but the key was just always having bodies on him," Samuelson said.
And so the Bison are headed back to the big tournament for the second straight year. The success is getting to be a regular thing, just like the NDSU football team.
"It feels just as good as last year. It's not easy," Samuelson said. "To do it with these guys again, it's just about the best feeling there could be. It's a blessing. That's really all I can say."