FARGO — At one point, North Dakota State looked to be on the verge of having somebody start South Dakota State’s bus early. If Red Auerbach was coaching the Bison, he may have considered lighting up a cigar midway in the second half.
But that’s not how things work with NDSU and SDSU this season. For the third straight game, it went to the final seconds and this time it was the Bison who survived. The 84-82 win before a “COVID-19 sellout” of 2,754 fans kept NDSU in the conversation for a regular season Summit League title.
At 50 percent capacity due to state regulations, the Bison were capped at 2,800 fans.
“I’m looking just under 2,800 … but it felt like there was over 5,000 in here,” said Bison head coach Dave Richman. “It was terrific.”
Richman reflected back to July and a conversation with NDSU deputy athletic director Todd Phelps, saying it was a “mulligan year” because it didn’t count toward players’ eligibility.
“It sure doesn’t feel like that right now,” Richman said. “You’re in the heart of a conference race, you have a packed atmosphere, it feels really, really good. I feel good saying that because there hasn’t been a lot of really, really good moments. There hasn’t been a lot of joy in the game because of the restrictions COVID has put on us.”
What looked to be a blowout suddenly got tight in the final five minutes. The Jackrabbits, behind center Douglas Wilson, who finished with 29 points and was a force on both ends of the floor, cut a 22-point second half deficit to three with under a minute remaining.
Sam Griesel’s two free throws with 27 seconds left made it 83-78. Rocky Kreuser made 1 of 2 free throws for an 84-80 advantage at 0:17. The Jackrabbits got a Matt Dentlinger layup with 0.1 seconds left for the final score.
It was a series split, with SDSU winning 68-67 on Friday. The Jackrabbits won a non-conference game in December by two.
“We had a big lead, they fought back but we were able to learn from our mistakes yesterday and came out on top,” said Bison guard Sam Griesel.
The Bison improved to 10-4 in the Summit. SDSU is 7-3. NDSU travels to South Dakota (10-3) for the last two games of the regular season while the Jackrabbits host Kansas City. USD hosts Oral Roberts on Sunday.
“That was a great win,” Richman said. “Notice I didn’t say pretty win but a great win.”
Until the last three minutes, the first half couldn’t have gone much better for NDSU, which hit 12 of 15 shots at one point and didn’t commit a turnover until 4:40 before halftime. Seven players had at least two field goals.
But the Jacks whittled a 19-point deficit to 47-35 at halftime.
NDSU restored its moxy in the first four minutes after the break. Three-point field goals by Kreuser and Maleeck Harden-Hayes got it going. A few possessions later, Harden-Hayes’ dunk off an SDSU turnover gave the Bison a 60-41 advantage.
After a time out, the Jacks put a full-court press on the Bison and it paid off on several occasions. Wilson’s steal and three-point play cut NDSU’s advantage to 75-64 with 7:28 left.
Later, with the press continuing to bother the Bison, Wilson’s layup and Dentlinger’s free throw got the home fans nervous with the lead trimmed to 77-71. A minute later it was a five-point game.
At 2:46, it was down to three. And then another Bison turnover.
“One of our staples is patience and poise and for a stretch in the second half we were not playing with any poise or patience,” Griesel said.
They found enough of it, however, in the final minute.
“You fight pressure with pressure,” Richman said. “You catch, face and attack, make them pay. We have guys who haven’t been in those spots a lot. It rattled us for a bit, no question but at the end of the day we’re going to enjoy this two-point victory.”
SDSU (13-6, 7-3 Summit): Dentlinger 5-6 5-7 15, Wilson 11-16 7-9 29, Scheierman 6-11 0-0 14, Easley 2-7 0-0 5, Arians 2-4 1-2 6, Appel 3-5 0-2 6, Mims 2-4 2-2 7, Wingett 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 31-54 15-22 82.
NDSU (12-10, 10-4 Summit): Kreuser 6-10 3-5 17, Witz 1-1 0-0 2, Eady 4-9 0-0 10, Griesel 6-7 2-2 15, Cook 3-8 2-3 10, Nelson 3-6 2-2 10, Harden-Hayes 5-7 0-0 11, Wilson IV 1-2 0-1 2, McKinney 2-6 0-0 4, Skunberg 1-1 0-0 3. Totals: 32-57 9-13 84.
Halftime: NDSU 47, SDSU 35. Total fouls: SDSU 20, NDSU 14. Fouled out: none. Rebounds: SDSU 27 (Dentlinger 8); NDSU 30 (Kreuser 6). 3-point goals: SDSU 5-19 (Scheierman 2-7, Easley 1-4, Arians 1-2, Appel 0-2, Mims 1-3, Wingett 0-1); NDSU 11-23 (Kreuser 2-6, Eady 2-3, Griesel 1-1, Cook 2-5, Nelson 2-4, Harden-Hayes 1-2, McKinney 0-1, Skunberg 1-1). Assists: SDSU 12 (Scheierman 5); NDSU 16 (Eady 5). Turnovers: SDSU 11 (Wilson, Scheierman 3); NDSU 12 (three with 2). A-2,754.