Schnepf: This year's team has look of 2009 Bison

Brookings, S.D. - There was a lot of basketball expertise sitting courtside during Saturday's North Dakota State-South Dakota State men's basketball game.

Brookings, S.D. - There was a lot of basketball expertise sitting courtside during Saturday's North Dakota State-South Dakota State men's basketball game.

Sitting an arms length from the court was Kelby Krabbenhoft, the CEO of Sanford Health, who witnessed his son Joe's playing days at the University of Wisconsin. Joe is now an assistant at SDSU.

A few chairs to Krabbenhoft's left sat Jim Iverson, who was a guard for a Kansas State team that played in the 1951 NCAA championship game. He also coached SDSU to a 1963 Division II national title and supposedly to this day, occasionally wakes up at 3 in the morning to chart plays.

Whether you were sitting courtside or were one of the 4,859 fans who packed Frost Arena, you saw even more basketball experience on the court - especially from the players wearing the green uniforms. NDSU, led by a senior-laden team much like the 2009 Bison team that reached the NCAA tournament, claimed an 85-77 victory in a place where wins are hard to come by for the visitors.

And this win came against an SDSU team with experience.


"They threw punches at us time and time again and we were able to throw back our own," said Bison center Marshall Bjorklund, one of five seniors who will leave Frost Arena with a 2-2 record. "Experience helps a lot."

Especially when one of those seniors is Taylor Braun, who sat out last year's 69-53 loss in Frost Arena with a foot injury. He made up for it with a 30-point performance - with 22 coming in the second half.

"We are a year older, we've learned from our mistakes," Braun said. "This can be a tough place to play. When you have a younger group, sometimes that can be intimidating and you make some silly plays. I think we did a good job of handling that today."

With Bjorklund, Braun and fellow seniors TrayVonnn Wright, Mike Felt and Jordan Aaberg plus junior point guard Lawrence Alexander, this Bison team has combined to play in 840 games and 450 starts, making it one of the most experienced teams in the nation.

Sound familiar?

It should. The 2009 Bison was blessed with four fifth-year seniors who fulfilled their dream of playing in the NCAA tournament. That group never lost in Frost Arena - including its last appearance there, when it trailed by five points with 57 seconds remaining of regulation.

The Bison, led by the never-panic experience of players like Ben Woodside, Brett Winkelman, Mike Nelson and Lucas Moormann, won in overtime.

That team outscored the Jacks 16-6 in overtime, much like this year's team orchestrated a 13-0 run to open the second half and never looked back. The 2009 team made 10 of 12 free throws in overtime, much like the Bison made 23 of 28 in Saturday's game.


Yes, there are a lot of similarities between these two teams.

Both can shoot from the field - the 2009 team ranked seventh nationally, this year's team ranks first.

Both can shoot from the line - the 2009 team ranked 30th nationally, this year's team ranks 14th.

Both can take care of the ball - the 2009 team ranked ninth in fewest turnovers, this year's team ranks 14th.

Both can score - the 2009 team ranked eighth, this year's team ranks 33rd.

You can say the 2009 team was a better 3-point shooting team. And you can say the 2009 team had one player who could take over the game in Woodside. Braun certainly made a statement in that regard.

"Braun just kind of took the game over," said SDSU head coach Scott Nagy.

You can say this year's team works harder on defense than the 2009 team did. And you can say this year's team has more balance, more depth and an inside game that can create points.


"It's nice in the huddle when you can reference big plays from big games like that," said Bison head coach Saul Phillips, who coached the 2009 team to Summit League regular-season and tournament championships. "Our guys have been together so long, they can anticipate what will come next. They can finish each other's sentences at times."

What's next for the Bison are two more road games next week - at South Dakota and Denver.

Like the 2009 team that lost just two regular-season conference games and only one on the road, this year's team will be tapping into that experience factor more than ever.

The 2009 team had to do it in their march to the NCAA Tournament. It trailed by as many as 11 points in its final regular-season game at Oral Roberts before claiming a 75-72 win, ending ORU's 35-game home winning streak and clinching the top seed for the Summit League tournament.

It trailed by as many as 14 points in the Summit League Tournament championship game before Woodside drained a 15-footer with four seconds remaining to give the Bison a 66-64 win over Oakland.

Experience matters.

"When Frost (Arena) starts shaking like it did today, our guys seem to embrace that moment," Phillips said, adding that Frost Arena was eight times tougher to play in than it was when his Bison won at Notre Dame earlier this season. "This is as tough of an environment you will ever play in. It won't be much different in the Sioux Falls Arena."

That's where last year's Bison team lost to SDSU in the Summit championship game. That's where, like the 2009 team, this year's Bison hope experience carries them to the Big Dance.

Readers can reach Forum Sports Editor

Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549

Schnepf's NDSU media blog can be

found at

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