FARGO — North Dakota State was on the verge of a major men’s basketball meltdown Friday night. Sam Griesel came to the rescue.
The Bison junior hit a baseline jumper just before the buzzer and NDSU escaped with a 71-69 win over the University of Nebraska Omaha at Scheels Center at Sanford Health Athletic Complex.
It was the second game winner for Griesel, who hit two free throws in the final few seconds to beat North Dakota in December.
It was a similar scenario on Friday. There wasn’t much to the final play; just give it to the 6-foot-6 guard and let him create a shot against 6-4 Omaha guard Zach Thornhill.
“We kind of had a little play call,” Griesel said, with a chuckle. “I just honestly went on my own and hit the shot. Luckily it went in.”
NDSU’s fifth win in six games moved the Bison to 3-0 in the league and 5-6 overall. That school-of-hard-knocks start looks more distant every day, especially since it was the home-opener in front of almost 1,000 fans.
“Exhilarating,” said Bison forward Rocky Kreuser, who finished with 19 points and 12 rebounds. “We had a lot of away games with no fans. To play in front of a crowd was an exciting feeling.”
Because of the altered schedule, the two teams will play again Saturday night at 7:30.
“If you lose a tough football game, the next six days are horrible because you have to wait to get that taste out of your mouth,” said Omaha head coach Darrin Hansen. “We’re anxious to go back and compete tomorrow.”
A key 9-0 stretch in the last six minutes put NDSU in the driver’s seat. Tyree Eady’s basket with 1:52 remaining made it 67-55. That lead disappeared. Fast.
Omaha scored eight straight, taking advantage of a Bison taunting violation. The last 1:25 was a drawn-out process.
“We made some big plays when we needed to,” said Bison head coach Dave Richman. “But extremely disappointed in our poise. … We have to play with better poise, make free throws and keep our mouth shut.”
Two Ayo Akinwole free throws, a Bison turnover, and a Wanjang Tut tip-in and suddenly NDSU’s lead was 69-67 at 52 seconds. Griesel misfired on the other end; Tut tied it with an inside hoop with 11 seconds remaining.
After a time out, Griesel got the ball off the inbounds, dribbled a few seconds off the clock, drove to the baseline and hit a turnaround jumper just before the buzzer.
“He was huge all night,” Richman said.
Griesel finished with 19 points and 5 rebounds.
For the Mavericks, it was all ground and pound with Tut, who is listed at 6-foot-8 and 205 pounds but plays heavier than that. He was a load to handle underneath for the Bison with 31 points.
“He catches it where he wants it,” Hansen said. “He’s extremely long and it’s hard to get a hand on it.”
Rare was the offensive position where Tut, who finished with points, didn’t get a touch.
For the longest time, it was a matchup of Tut against everybody else on the floor for the Bison. Eight of the nine players who played in the first half scored and that led to NDSU’s 36-26 halftime lead.
The Bison maintained that advantage in the first 10 minutes of the second half, getting good production from Grant Nelson off the bench. The true freshman finished with eight points. Omaha, however, crept back in it by getting some key defensive stops.
It doesn’t take long to whittle a 10-point lead in college basketball and the Mavericks cut it to 50-48 at the 9:30 mark.
It was a battle of spurts from there. NDSU grabbed a 58-50 advantage ending with two Griesel driving hoops. Omaha cut it to three. NDSU got a few defensive stops. A three-point play from Kreuser followed by his three free throws and it was 64-55 with 3:29 remaining.
“We were playing Bison basketball to a ‘T,’ ” Kreuser said. “Then we got lackadaisical on offense.”
UNO (2-12, 0-3 Summit): Tut 14-19 3-4 31, Pile 3-6 0-0 6, Roe 1-4 0-0 2, Akinwole 2-7 5-5 9, Ruffin 6-15 0-2 15, Hughes 1-3 0-0 2, Booth 2-4 0-1 4, Robinson 0-3 0-0 0, Evans 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 29-61 8-12 69.
NDSU (5-6, 3-0 Summit): Kreuser 7-15 4-4 19, Eady 5-8 0-0 11, Griesel 6-11 6-7 19, Cook 1-5 0-0 2, Harden-Hayes 3-7 1-3 8, McKinney 1-2 0-0 2, Nelson 4-5 0-0 8, Skunberg 0-2 0-0 0, Wilson IV 1-1 0-0 2. Totals: 28-56 11-14 71.
Halftime: NDSU 36, UNO 26. Total fouls: UNO 14, NDSU 14. Fouled out: none. Rebounds: UNO 30 (Ruffin 7); NDSU 33 (Kreuser 12). 3-point goals: UNO 3-11 (Roe 0-1, Robinson 0-2, Ruffin 3-5); NDSU 4-17 (Kreuser 1-7, Eady 1-2, Griesel 1-2, Cook 0-2, Harden-Hayes 1-3, Nelson 0-1). Assists: UNO 6 (Akinwole 5); NDSU 8 (Eady 4). Turnovers: UNO 10 (Tut 4); NDSU 8 (Eady 4). A-954.