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NDSU's poise pays off

Sioux Falls, S.D. After playing in his first Division I postseason tournament, Ben Woodside faced questions in his first Division I postseason press conference in the Sioux Falls Arena Saturday night. "Did you guys feel the pressure of it being y...

Ben Woodside
NDSU's Ben Woodside looks for an open teammate during the Bison's first-round game in the Summit League men's basketball tournament on Saturday. Dave Wallis / The Forum

Sioux Falls, S.D.

After playing in his first Division I postseason tournament, Ben Woodside faced questions in his first Division I postseason press conference in the Sioux Falls Arena Saturday night.

"Did you guys feel the pressure of it being your first postseason tournament?" one reporter asked.

Woodside answered as calmly as when he sank four free throws in the final 24 seconds to help North Dakota State secure an 83-77 win over Centenary at the Summit League tournament - avoiding major disappointment of falling short of an NCAA Tournament berth.

"No, not at all," Woodside answered. "We've been in a number of close games in which we had to hit free throws down the stretch this season. I really don't think this team felt any pressure down the stretch."

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Woodside and his three senior teammates may have shown signs of cracking and becoming the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 8 seed in the 24-year history of this tournament. But as they have done so often this season, they pulled out their 16th win in the last 17 games and are now two wins away from the "Big Dance" - a dream they've had since NDSU was added to the Summit League three years ago.

"It's nice to have 23-year-old men on your side in games like this," Bison head coach Saul Phillips said, referring to his fifth-year seniors of Woodside, Brett Winkelman, Mike Nelson and Lucas Moormann.

Even Centenary's Chase Adams, who lit up the Bison for a season-high 26 points, said the difference in Saturday night's game was maturity.

"They are very smart and they are very veteran," said Adams, a junior who played with only two seniors this year. "And we are young. They executed real well. And whenever we made mistakes, they capitalized."

After executing to near perfection to build a 48-29 halftime lead, it appeared the Bison were on their way to an easy win.

Not so.

After Adams and fellow guard Nick Stallings engineered a comeback that gave Centenary 70-69 lead, it looked like the Bison were the ones suffering the inexperienced jitters.

After all, Woodside did commit an uncharacteristic seven turnovers. Winkelman had one of his shots blocked and misfired on a 3-pointer down the stretch. And Nelson threw up an awkward-looking 3-pointer that barely drew iron with less than three minutes remaining.

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No need to worry, according to these guys.

"Winkelman was so calm in the huddle it was scary," Phillips said of a late-game timeout. "I wanted to bump him to see if he was awake."

He was. He made 7 of 8 free throws to help the Bison build a 79-72 lead. The forward who averaged 32 points and 11 rebounds in the four previous wins against Centenary ended up with 30 points and 8 rebounds.

Woodside ended up making all four of his free throws in the final 24 seconds. The Summit League's player of the year ended up with 24 points.

It's no wonder Woodside and Winkelman are the third-most prolific scoring tandem in Division 1 combining to average 41.8 points per game. It's no wonder Winkelman has the second longest streak of consecutive double-digit scoring games in Division I with 41. It's now wonder Woodside now has made 210 free throws this season - the second most in the country, the fifth most in league history and 28 more than any other player in the league has even attempted this year.

"I knew this team was poised," Woodside said. "Down the stretch, I had confidence in this team."

"It's going to come down to free throws," Winkelman said. "It's tournament time."

That it is. And thanks to the Bison's poise - they officially won its first Division I tournament game.

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549

Schnepf's NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com

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