FARGO — The job title Sam Griesel carried in his first two years at North Dakota State was more akin to being a building maintenance engineer, the guy who swept the basketball floor at both ends in the name of hustle plays.
By no means did he have the pretty work like former players Vinnie Shahid and Tyson Ward did.
“My role was more the dirty work, or whatever you want to call it,” Griesel said.
It took until the majority of NDSU’s scoring load graduated in Shahid and Ward and a refined outside game, but Griesel has complemented his janitor role with a nice scoring touch. He’s gone from a supporting cast guy that helped NDSU win two Summit League tournament titles in his first two years to a starring role with forwards Tyree Eady and Rocky Kreuser.
Those three will be counted this weekend when the Summit tourney kicks off at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, S.D. No. 3 seed NDSU plays sixth-seeded Missouri-Kansas City on Sunday night at 8:30.
Bison head coach Dave Richman made no bones about it; his three leaders will need to lead. He called them out in a team meeting in Vermillion, S.D., last weekend after NDSU dropped the first of a two-game series with the University of South Dakota.
“He let us know if we want to go where we want this season, us three have to play at a really high level and we know we can,” Griesel said. “It’s just that we have to be consistent with it.”
They were on Sunday when the Bison ended the regular season with one of their best games of the season in an 89-77 victory. The 6-foot-5 Griesel was near impossible to stop with 26 points, including 4 of 7 from 3-point range.
Dialing long distance wasn’t in his prior repertoire. He averaged 6.1 and 6.6 points per game respectively in those first two seasons with many of those second-chance points or hard-working drives to the basket.
A commitment to working on his outside shot, and a move to point guard to replace Shahid, has his game in a different place heading into the Summit tourney. He’s averaging 11.7 points and 6.5 rebounds with eight games of at least 15 points.
He had just four games in double figures in 2019-20 with a high of 13 points.
“I think the thing with Sam, I’ve always seen it, people within our program have seen it, it’s just taken Sam some time to see it in himself,” Richman said. “He’s playing with a terrific competitive spirit and he realizes he’s one of the better players in the league and he’s playing like that. And when you play with that confidence and swagger, that’s the results that you get and it’s fun to see.”
Griesel had the outside game in high school at Lincoln East High School (Neb.) He was a first team all-state player averaging 17.1 points his senior year. His first two years at NDSU took a different tone.
“I just try to do whatever I can to help our team win,” he said. “If that means making plays for other players, then that’s what I’m going to do to the best of my ability. Obviously we knew going into this season having (Ward and Shahid) gone someone was going to have to step up in the scoring department.”
That includes Kreuser, who is averaging 14.8 points, and Eady who is at 11.1. Both are career bests. Also on the minds of those three heading into Sunday: Last year’s NCAA tournament was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which abruptly ended NDSU’s season.
“That’s in the back of our minds for sure,” Griesel said. “But the main thing is just going to Sioux Falls to compete and anything less than a championship will be a failure in our eyes.”