MINNEAPOLIS - It didn't take long for Saul Phillips to sum up what hurt his team against nationally ranked Minnesota on Wednesday.
As Phillips took the podium after the North Dakota State men's basketball team lost 84-65 in front of a loud 12,056 at Williams Arena, he got right to the point.
"I'll start out with an opening statement," Phillips said. "Wow, they're big. How's that?"
For about 25 minutes, NDSU stayed competitive and within striking distance of the bigger, faster, stronger Gophers. After falling behind by as many as 16 points in the first half, the Bison chipped away and pulled to within six with just more than 12 minutes to play in the game. But Minnesota closed out the game on a 34-21 run.
And most of the damage was done inside.
Playing against 6-foot-11 Ralph Sampson III, 6-foot-10 Colton Iverson and 6-foot-10 Maurice Walker, it wasn't surprising that NDSU was outrebounded 47-34. But while the Bison were only outscored 26-20 in the paint, they had a season-high 12 shots blocked and their perimeter offense -- which had clicked so well to start the season - disappeared against the Gophers' swarming defense.
The Bison entered the game shooting 53 percent from 3-point range but hit only 8 of 21 from behind the arc on Wednesday.
"We you play a high major, you've got to hit some open jumpers," said Drew Lundberg, who finished with 11 points on 5-for-13 shooting. "We did that in the first half, in the second, I didn't feel like we moved the ball as well as we could have."
Quite a difference from last weekend's 40-point romp over Mayville State. The Bison shot 58 percent in that game, but only 37 percent against the Gophers.
While most teams would rather have a 40-point win than a 19-point loss, the Bison had to feel just as good about a scrappy loss to the red-hot Gophers as they did in routing NAIA Mayville State.
"They're a really big team," said Michael Tveidt, who led NDSU with 14 points. "It's a good thing for us before conference play to get in here and play against some length like that. It's good practice, a good way to get better."
Fresh off its No. 15 ranking in the Associated Press Top 25 poll, Minnesota entered the game with five consecutive wins, including impressive victories over No. 8 North Carolina and West Virginia this past weekend to win the Puerto Rico Tip-Off in San Juan.
"I don't like losing," Phillips said. "It takes a little bit of a sting out of it knowing you lost to a good basketball team that's playing very well. Give them a lot of credit for coming back from San Juan with everybody probably telling them how good they are and still playing well. That takes a pretty mature team."
And considering the Bison hadn't (and still haven't) beaten the Gophers in more than 30 years, most probably figured NDSU wouldn't provide much of a challenge.
Yet, the Bison kept pace with the Gophers for the first 15 minutes before losing control. They led three times in the first half - each time by a single point. Freddy Coleman and Tveidt had a pair of 3-pointers to give NDSU its third and final lead of the game at 23-22 with just over seven minutes to play in the half.
Then the wheels came off.
Sampson scored on a drive, Austin Hollins hit a 3, and Blake Hoffarber, who led the Gophers with 24 points, added a runner.
Tveidt tried to counter for the Bison with a 3 of his own that made it 29-26, but the Gophers scored 13 unanswered to close out the half. Two of those points came on a questionable intentional foul on Eric Carlson after Gophers point guard Al Nolen stripped Coleman.
With Nolen streaking down the court, Carlson grabbed Nolen from behind to prevent the easy basket. He was whistled for the intentional even though he appeared to keep Nolen from crashing to the floor.
After hitting both free throws, Minnesota got another jumper from Hoffarber on the ensuing inbound to give the Gophers a 39-26 lead.
"We were able to function pretty well early in the first half," Phillips said. "We were getting good inside-out looks, we were patient offensively and then all of a sudden we had a couple of turnovers they got a little bit out of transition. That turned the table."
NDSU (3-2): Carlson 3-11 2-2 8, Tveidt 5-10 2-2 14, Bjorklund 3-5 2-3 8, Coleman 3-10 0-0 8, Lundberg 5-13 0-0 11, Zastrow 1-4 3-4 6, Braun 2-7 0-0 5, Wright 1-3 0-0 2, Nagel 0-0 0-0 0, Felt 1-2 0-0 3, Newell 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 24-65 9-11 65.
M (6-0): Williams 0-1 2-2 2, Mbakwe 3-3 6-12 12, Sampson 3-12 3-4 9, Hoffarber 10-16 0-0 24, Nolen 1-4 1-2 4, Ahanmisi 1-1 3-4 6, Walker 2-3 0-0 6, Hollins 2-4 3-4 8, Armelin 2-6 0-0 4, Iverson 3-8 3-4 9, Dawson 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 27-60 21-32 84.
Half: M 42, NDSU 26. 3-point goals: NDSU 8-21 (Tveidt 2-4, Coleman 2-4, Lundberg 1-4, Zastrow 1-4, Braun 1-3, Felt 1-2), M 9-19 (Hoffarber 4-8, Walker 2-2, Hollins 1-2, Nolen 1-1, Ahanmisi 1-1, Armelin 0-3, Sampson 0-2). Total fouls: NDSU 22, M 13. Fouled out: Carlson. Rebounds: NDSU 34 (Coleman 9), M 47 (Iverson 11). Assists: NDSU 18 (Coleman, Braun 5), M 23 (Nolen 5). Steals: NDSU 8 (Zastrow 2), M 7 (Nolen 5). Turnovers: NDSU 14, M 14.