Bison dial long distance to take win over Summit newbie St. Thomas
Parade of 3-point field goals to end the first half puts Tommies in a hole.
FARGO — It took awhile to start the bus, although it has been below zero in Fargo and vehicles can have their issues. Once North Dakota State warmed up, it was over for the University of St. Thomas.
The Bison were a machine to close the first half and went on to a 77-56 Summit League men’s basketball win over St. Thomas in the first game between the two programs since the 1966-67 season.
UST, in its first year in the Summit while making the transition from NCAA Division III, hasn’t exactly joined the conference and hung out in the cellar. The Tommies own wins over Western Illinois and Denver and led league unbeaten South Dakota State at halftime last week.
They’ve done it with the same starting five that competed at the D-III level.
“No disrespect to St. Thomas, but our focus was us,” said NDSU head coach Dave Richman. “There were certainly some things that they do that we talked about and game planned for, and our guys did a terrific job of executing that. We came out and took care of our business.”
Most of the UST roster is from the Twin Cities, but the best player from that area was on NDSU’s side. Bison forward Rocky Kreuser, from White Bear Lake, Minn., was a load for the Tommies to handle. Kreuser came in averaging 22 points and 7 rebounds in his prior five games, and was in line with that with 17 points and 11 rebounds against the Tommies.
“Staying aggressive, moving the ball a lot better on offense,” Kreuser said. “The guys are just being aggressive and I think we’re playing more cohesive, playing more as a unit.”
The Bison used the 3-ball to dig out of first-half offensive doldrums, which saw them with just four points with the midway point of the half not far away. St. Thomas had a 14-9 lead when the arc came calling.
“I think the guys were hesitant for a second on some of those shots,” Richman said. “We encouraged them to rise up and play with confidence and we did that.”
Five unanswered 3-point field goals quickly built a 10-point Bison lead. More impressive, they came from five different players. It was a major push that got the Bison, who hit 8 of their last 10 shots, a 33-21 halftime lead.
Six players had at least one trey in the first 20 minutes, while the Tommies went 3 of 15 from that distance.
“We played tremendous defense tonight,” said Bison guard Maleeck Harden-Hayes.
NDSU scored the first nine points of the second half to put UST in a major hole at 42-21. A 3-pointer and inside bucket from Kreuser accounted for the final five points and at that point, the balanced Bison had five players between five and 11 points.
The lead reached 30 before UST had a closing rush with reserves in the game.
It was the start of a busy week for the Bison, who travel to South Dakota on Thursday and to South Dakota State on Saturday. If there was any overlooking the Tommies, it wasn’t evident after the slow start.
“It’s just a couple more games coming up,” Kreuser said. “Every game is important in the conference.”
NDSU improved to 5-3 in the Summit and 13-7 overall in snapping a two-game home losing streak. Harden-Hayes and Tyree Eady backed Kreuser with 12 points each, combining for 8-of-11 shooting. After the slow start, the Bison finished at 56% from the field.
“They threw some wrinkles at us we hadn’t seen in a little bit,” Richman said. “Our guys answered that bell.”
NDSU welcomed the return of forward Grant Nelson, who saw his first action after missing four games with a knee injury. He finished with eight points in less than eight minutes after fouling out.