SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - They even played “If You’re Gonna Play in Texas” at the Denny Sanford Premier Center Tuesday night. North Dakota State continues to shine with ESPN in town, whether it be a football FCS title game berth to Frisco, Texas, or a shot at making the Big Dance.
The Alabama song has been a staple signifying semifinal football wins at the Fargodome. The men’s basketball team could have played any tune it wanted in the Summit League championship game against the University of North Dakota.
Everything sounded good.
The Bison threw a shooting clinic at the Fighting Hawks in the first half and went on to take an 89-53 victory to reach the NCAA tournament for the second straight year. NDSU will have to wait until Selection Sunday to see its regional destination.
“We just caught fire,” said Bison guard Jared Samuelson.
Vinnie Shahid scored 25 points, Tyson Ward 23 and the school’s fifth trip to the NCAA tournament since 2009 was virtually over by halftime. The Bison hit 8 of their first 10 3-point shots and there were no balls dancing on the rim on any of the makes. The sound of a swish was commonplace in a 49-22 halftime lead.
"It's contagious," Shahid said. "We were sharing the ball and we had confidence in each other. When everybody is shooting like that, not many teams are not going to win."
UND, the No. 6 seed, was playing its third game in three days after beating No. 3 seed South Dakota on Sunday and No. 7 Purdue-Fort Wayne on Monday in the semifinals. NDSU took the three-straight-day route in winning the Summit last year, but the Fighting Hawks were lacking the juice the Bison showed last year in this game.
NDSU put its vehicle in overdrive from the tip and never did let off the gas. The Fighting Hawks missed their first six shots from the field, most from long distance, and NDSU took advantage to bolt to a 9-0 lead before the first 16-and-under media time out.
Ward followed with a running one-hander. NDSU made it 13-0 when backup center Tyler Witz scored on a turnaround. Marlon Stewart finally broke the UND drought with a field goal with 13 minutes remaining.
“I’ve never been on a team that started like that,” said Bison forward Sam Griesel. “It showed what hard work can do. It was all clicking at the right time.”
Shahid made it 18-2 with a long trey and a layup. Moments later, backup guard Jaxon Knotek’s 3-pointer forced a UND time out with the Bison up 21-2. The Bison weren’t through, either.
“We knew what we were capable of,” Samuelson said. “Man, that was fun. That was one of the most fun games I’ve ever played in.”
Rocky Kreuser’s 3-pointer made it a 21-point lead. Ward’s three-point play made it a 22-point advantage with just under nine minutes remaining.
Normally, most teams that start that hot eventually hit a cold spell. Not on this night for NDSU.
"That's what we were saying in the huddle, foot on the gas, push the lead, push the lead," Ward said.
Later, Samuelson’s second trey of the half gave the Bison a 43-18 lead. At that point, five different players hit a 3-pointer. About the only poor shot was a long 3-pointer by Shahid, who had 16 points in the first half, near the halftime horn that would have given the Bison a 30-point halftime lead.
“They were playing with great pace,” said UND head coach Paul Sather. “We weren’t at that pace tonight. That team we played tonight played with poise and a sense of urgency ready to play in a national tournament.”
It was perhaps NDSU’s best half of basketball of the season. The Bison shot 52 percent, outrebounded UND 21-13 and committed only two turnovers.
“We just came in and played our game,” Ward said. “I didn’t want my college career to end now.”
If the Fighting Hawks were going to make a rally, their best chance was the first five minutes of the second half. It didn’t happen. De’Sean Allen-Eikens had three hoops and UND put up 10 points.
But NDSU countered with a pair of Shahid 3-pointers and Samuelson’s bucket at the shot clock buzzer. Ward’s trey then put NDSU up 60-32.
The first 30-point lead came with seven minutes remaining on Ward’s three-point play.
“You could tell how they started they’ve been here before,” said UND forward Kienan Walter. “They were comfortable in this environment.”
Especially Shahid and Ward, the latter who hit all five of his 3-point attempts.
“They’re a great 1-2 punch,” Griesel said. “It was a special night.”
It was not a great night for Stewart, UND's best player. He was 4 of 15 and finished with 12 points.
"Marlon is a good player, it was a team effort and not one individual," Samuelson said. "We played good defense today."
UND (15-18): Stewart 4-15 4-7 12, Brown 1-3 0-0 2, Rebraca 4-11 3-4 11, Walter 3-10 1-3 8, Allen-Eikens 7-12 2-4 17, Altelbauers 0-1 0-0 0, Coudreau 1-1 0-0 3, Danielson 0-1 0-0 0, Urbonavicius 0-1 0-0 0, Ibganugo 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 20-56 (FG), 10-18 (FT).
NDSU (25-8): Shahid 8-14 6-6 25, Griesel 4-6 0-0 8, Samuelson 4-6 0-0 11, Ward 8-13 2-2 23, Kreuser 1-7 2-2 5, Knotek 1-2 0-0 3, Quayle 0-1 0-0 0, Hunter 4-5 1-2 9, Harden-Hayes 0-0 0-0 0, Wilson IV 1-2 1-1 3, Witz 1-2 0-0 2. Totals: 32-58 (FG), 12-13 (FT).
Halftime: NDSU 49, UND 22. 3-point goals: UND 3-19 (Walter 1-5, Allen-Eikens 1-2, Coudrea 1-1), NDSU 13-25 (Shahid 3-7, Samuelson 3-5, Ward 5-5, Kreuser 1-4, Knotek 1-2). Total fouls: UND 14, NDSU 18. Rebounds: UND 27 (Stewart 6, Allen-Eikens 5), NDSU 39 (Ward 13, Kreuser 6). Assists: UND 9 (Stewart 2, Brown 2), NDSU 15 (Kreuser 5, Ward 3). Turnovers: UND 6, NDSU 6 (Griesel 2). A-4,305.