FARGO — There were 3.9 seconds remaining. That’s how much time was left for four North Dakota State seniors to keep their five years of dedication to Bison men’s basketball alive.
That’s how much time was left when Ben Woodside released the shot that will forever be enshrined in the history of NDSU athletics. It was the field goal that sent the Bison to the NCAA Tournament in their first year of Division I eligibility. That was 10 years ago as another Summit League tournament is underway this weekend in Sioux Falls, S.D.
NDSU's 2009 accomplishment is rare territory. The fact the Bison did it the dramatic way; well, maybe it was supposed to be that way.
“What I look back and remember were the memorable moments collectively as a group,” Woodside said. “All of our teammates. All of our friends. Our teammates’ family members. That’s what I take home from that experience. Just a bunch of awesome guys, hard-working and class acts.”
And a classic jumper that sent NDSU to the Summit League tournament winner's circle.
“The Shot” came about because of “The Play.” Over the course of the season, the Bison perfected the screen-and-roll with Woodside and center Lucas Moormann. Woodside, forward Brett Winkelman and guard Mike Nelson finished their careers that season in the top seven all-time in Bison career scoring, but Moormann should have been in the record books for most screens set in one season.
“I wish there was some sort of record like that,” Moormann said.
It was a play that was highlighted when Woodside scored a school-record 60 points against Stephen F. Austin in a tournament at Drake University (Iowa). The Bison were down by 18 points with eight minutes to go, at which time then-Bison head coach Saul Phillips told his team to go to one play in an effort to get as many possessions as possible.
That play was for Woodside to play off a Moormann screen-and-roll at the top of the key. The Lumberjacks couldn’t stop it.
Woodside was 30 of 35 from the free-throw line, albeit the Bison eventually lost in three overtimes.
It was a play the Bison also ran earlier in the year at Oakland when Woodside had the ball with 10 seconds to play and his team down 77-76.
“It’s what we went to when we had a chance for the last shot,” Moormann said.
Woodside misfired that night, a driving layup that hung on the rim before falling off. Phillips told him after the game that he would get another chance.
That chance came in the Summit League title game. Oakland appeared to have the game in hand up 60-48 in the second half. But behind a few 3-pointers by Michael Tveidt, NDSU clawed back. A dunk by Oakland's Keith Benson with 12 seconds left, however, tied it at 64-64.
“We didn’t panic,” Woodside said.
The Bison, knowing what play they were going to run, did not call a time out. Phillips said lost in Woodside setting up for the shot was the ability of Tveidt to inbound the ball and quickly sprint downcourt.
“Or they’ll have two guys to guard one,” said Phillips, speaking on the “McFeely Mess” podcast on inforum.com recently. “Tveidt, the track star, busts down and they flatten out.”
Said Woodside: “He probably would have run 4.1 seconds in the 40 at that point. He positioned himself on the baseline, which opened the high pick-and-roll.”
Moormann did his thing just getting enough of Oakland guard Johnathon Jones, who was defending Woodside. The 6-foot-11 Benson appeared to drop into the lane looking for Woodside to drive to the rim, something Woodside did often against the Golden Grizzlies.
“I did that numerous times in the second half,” he said.
But Woodside pulled up from 18 feet.
“As I made that cross over, I realized how far back (Benson) was and at that second, decided to shoot a pull up,” Woodside said. “It was all a read. It wasn’t like I decided at half court I was going to pull up on him.”
Jones turned his back into Woodside, but it wasn’t enough of a distraction. Woodside said Jones gave him a light check with his arm that forced him to recalculate his balance in the air, with one leg moving slightly back as he released the shot.
“It was not a real orthodox shot when he took it,” Moormann said. “He kind of scissored almost. When you dissect the film, it’s not the prettiest form but that’s what Ben was really good at. He could maneuver his body in different ways to get shots off.”
When Jones’ 28-foot shot bounced off the rim, the Bison celebrated on a winter-storm kind of night in Sioux Falls, S.D. Reserve guard Freddy Coleman was the first to tackle Woodside, followed by a throng of fans.
Phillips never hesitates to look back on how the four seniors committed to NDSU, then coached by Tim Miles, when the Bison had no conference and no guarantee they would be in a league that could get them into the NCAA tourney.
“The things that had to fall into place to make their dream into a reality,” Phillips said. “I mean, my goodness.”
Goodness, the team had to face Kansas in the first round of the NCAA. The beauty was the regional was held at the Metrodome in Minneapolis, close enough for thousands of Bison fans to attend the game.
The Jayhawks survived a Bison rally to win 84-74. The seniors that signed their letters of intent and redshirted when NDSU was still a Division II program saw their careers end. They will not be soon forgotten, however. If ever.
“This team was not a team that was given any advantage over and above the bare minimum other than a visionary head coach in Tim Miles and a visionary A.D.,” Phillips said. “And honestly, we didn’t have the tools to get it done but it got done. That’s special.”