FARGO - The veteran vehicle known as the North Dakota State men’s basketball team is not at full highway speed. It was a point of emphasis by head coach Dave Richman in the wake of his team’s Veteran’s Day afternoon non-conference game with California Poly at Scheels Center at Sanford Health Athletic Complex.
He’ll take the result and so will the 2,006 fans that saw the 74-67 win over the Mustangs. NDSU improved to 2-1 despite what Richman said was about 15 minutes of solid effort. It just happened to be the final 15.
“We have the ability to do what we did the final 15 minutes and that’s to turn it on,” he said. “We need to turn it on from start to finish. We’ll learn those things. There’s a long ways to go. A long ways to go.”
Leading 62-60, it was a series of plays in the final three minutes that made the difference and most of them involved backup guard Cameron Hunter.
His 3-pointer with the shot clock running down made it a five-point game with 2:23 remaining.
“Cam is no stranger to big 3s,” said Bison senior Tyson Ward. “That’s just Cam. Cam hits big shots when we need them.”
On the other end, Hunter rebounded a missed Cal Poly shot from in-close and NDSU put it in the hands of point guard Vinnie Shahid.
His driving hoop made it 67-60 with 1:37 left. Later, after the Mustangs cut it to 67-63 and the shot clock once again dwindling, Hunter got his defender in the air and drew a foul. His two free throws at 50 seconds kept the Mustangs in check.
Hunter sank four more free throws in the final minute and finished with 13 points.
The junior guard did not play in the first half, the result of an academic issue, Richman said.
“Cam is a heck of a basketball player but in our program, we talk about being people, we talk about being students and basketball players, Cam has to make sure he’s dotting all Is and cross all Ts in the classroom as well,” Richman said. “A win is a win but I’m more interested in the process of Cam becoming a better student.”
The 6-foot-3 Hunter was part of a second half smaller lineup for the Bison along with the 5-11 Shahid, the 6-6 Ward, 6-5 Tyree Eady and 6-6 Sam Griesel. All are mostly guards.
“We’re prepared for any situation,” Ward said. “When it comes to a height difference, no matter the size we can handle it.”
Said Richman: “I didn’t like our activity, I thought we were standing a lot offensively. I thought we were a step slow defensively so it was just kind of a change of pace. It was good to see.”
The small look was probably finalized when the Mustangs finished the half on a 12-1 run for a 33-30 halftime lead. They scored the first five of the second half and it was 38-30.
Shahid, however, showed the way back for NDSU scoring seven of his team’s next 12 points. His two free throws evened it at 42-42 and the Bison had new life.
“Just put your head down on defense and try to get more stops,” Shahid said. “The shots weren’t falling so we had to figure out ways to score.”
It was tight until the end. NDSU made one threat to run away scoring seven consecutive for a 58-51 lead, the last a Ward hoop in traffic. That came with 6:16 left.
Cal Poly got close but NDSU maintained its lead. And the victory.
“The other thing we have to be careful of is that front-runner’s mentality,” Richman said. “Sometimes when your shot isn’t falling you’re focused on that last missed shot and not getting back and getting that next defensive stop. We have a lot of things to continue to work on.”
CP (0-2): Jaakola , K. Smith 1-1 0-0 3, Crowe 0-3 0-0 0, Ballard 8-13 1-3 20, J. Smith 7-11 2-2 17, Hollingsworth 0-2 0-0 0, Colvin 3-5 0-0 6, Alexander 0-2 1-2 1, Rogers 4-9 0-0 10. Totals: 27-52 6-11 67.
NDSU (2-1): Griesel 3-11 1-2 8, Kreuser 2-3 0-0 4, Shahid 6-10 7-8 21, Samuelson 0-3 0-0 0, Ward 3-4 7-10 14, Eady 4-9 0-0 8, Quayle 0-1 0-0 0, Witz 2-4 2-2 6, Harden-Hayes 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-48 25-31 74.
Halftime: CP 33, NDSU 30. Total fouls: CP 22, NDSU 16. Fouled out: none. Rebounds: CP 26 (J. Smith 6); NDSU 32 (Ward 7). 3-point goals: CP 7-14 (K. Smith 1-1, Crowe 0-2, Ballard 3-4, J. Smith 1-2, Colvin 0-1, Rogers 2-4); NDSU 5-20 (Griesel 1-6, Kreuser 0-1, Shahid 2-4, Samuelson 0-3, Ward 1-2, Eady 0-2, Quayle 0-1, Hunter 1-1). Assists: CP 9 (J. Smith 4); NDSU 8 (Ward 3). Turnovers: CP 10 (J. Smith 4): NDSU 9 (Kreusser 3). A-2,006.