SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Of course it went to the wire. Of course it was a grinder. It had to, because it was a Dave Richman-coached North Dakota State.
The only difference was this time the Bison came out on the wrong end.
Oral Roberts (16-10) won the Summit League men's basketball championship with an improbable 75-72 victory at the Sanford Pentagon, hanging on by the thinnest of threads after the Bison nearly rallied from a 25-point halftime deficit.
The Bison looked dead after a first-half flurry by the Golden Eagles left them staggered and trailing 45-20 after the first 20 minutes.
But somehow the game was tied 72-72 after NDSU's Rocky Kreuser muscled in a bank shot with 40 seconds left in the game. NDSU outscored ORU 52-30 in the second half.
ORU scored the final three points of the game, though, on a free throw by Max Abmas and two by D'Mauria Jones and the Golden Eagles snatched the Summit's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament that begins later this month.
After Abmas made one free throw for a 73-72 lead with 14.6 seconds left, NDSU's Sam Griesel backed down ORU's Francis Lacis and tried to muscle up a shot in the lane. Lacis, though, bodied up Griesel and blocked the shot. Jones got the loose ball, was fouled and made two free throws with 2.2 seconds left.
NDSU didn't get off a final shot.
Tournament MVP Abmas led the Golden Eagles with 23 points.
Kreuser scored a career-high 34 points. Tyree Eady added 15.
Given the firepower ORU possesses, including Division I's leading scorer in Abmas, it seemed unlikely it would be close late in the game.
Led by a 17-point outburst by Kevin Obanor the Golden Eagles overwhelmed the Bison in the first half. The Bison led 10-9 with 12:25 left before ORU began draining 3-pointers and NDSU continued to miss almost everything. Obanor scored 13 points in a five-minute stretch that stretched ORU's lead from 12-10 to 25-12.
Abmas got in the act with a couple of baskets, including a traditional three-point play with 4 minutes left that gave the Golden Eagles a 37-16 lead.
By the time Carlos Jurgens drained a 3-pointer from the corner as time was winding down in the half, ORU had a 45-20 lead.
The game looked over.
It wasn't. Not even close.
Aided by ORU's decision to take quick shots, fewer of which went in than the first half, the Bison chipped away. By the time Kreuser made a leaner in the lane with 7:30 remaining, the Bison had their deficit to single digits at 58-49. A Grant Nelson dunk with 5:30 left pulled the Bison within 63-56.
ORU stretched the lead back to 10 on a pair of three throws and a three-point play by Abmas. But Kreuser's three-point play made it 68-66.
ORU again padded the lead to make it 72-68 with 56 seconds left, but Grant Nelson scored a layup with 45 seconds and was fouled, missed the free throw, but it was rebounded by NDSU. Kreuser scored off the glass with 40 seconds left to tie it 72-72.
It was the end of a surprising season for the Bison (15-12). They lost their top two players, Tyson Ward and Vinnie Shahid, after winning last year's Summit championship. But getting unexpected support from true freshmen Grant Nelson and Dezmond McKinney to help veterans Kreuser, Griesel and Eady
The Bison were seeking their fourth NCAA berth under Richman, including their third straight.
ORU (16-10): Obanor 8-13 2-3 21, Jurgens 3-9 1-1 8, Thompson 5-11 1-1 12, Lacis 1-5 0-0 3, Abmas 7-17 8-10 23, Weaver 2-6 0-0 6, Stevens 2-6 0-0 6, Jones 0-0 2-2 2. Totals 26-62 14-17 75.
NDSU (15-12): Cook 2-8 0-1 5, Harden-Hayes 0-1 0-0 0, Eady 6-9 3-3 15, Kreuser 11-20 9-10 34, Griesel 1-12 3-4 6, McKinney 1-3 0-0 3, Knotek 1-2 0-0 3, Skunberg 0-0 0-0 0, Wilson 1-2 0-0 2, Nelson 2-7 0-1 4. Totals 25-64 15-19 72.
Half: ORU 45, NDSU 20. 3-point goals: ORU 9-29 (Obanor 3-4, Jurgens 1-3, Thompson 1-5, Lacis 1-4, Abmas 1-6, Weaver 2-6, Stevens 0-1), NDSU 7-16 (Cook 1-2, Eady 0-1, Kreuser 3-7, Griesel 1-1, McKinney 1-2, Knotek 1-2, Nelson 0-1). Total fouls: ORU 16, NDSU 18. Fouled out: Obanor. Rebounds: ORU 37 (Obanor 9, Jurgens 9), NDSU 42 (Griesel 11). Assists: ORU 14 (Abmas 7), NDSU 16 (Griesel 7). Turnovers: ORU 9 (Lacis 2, Abmas 2), NDSU 11 (three players with 3).