Bison get monster night from Grant Nelson, beat Jacks to reach Summit title game
North Dakota State defeats South Dakota State, will play in fifth straight league championship
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — North Dakota State not only hopped on the back of Grant Nelson, the Bison jumped off it and buried South Dakota State on Monday night. A team that spent the entire year living under .500 in the won-lost column will be playing for a Summit League tournament championship.
Nelson turned in a monster double-double — 20 points and 22 rebounds — and the Bison defeated South Dakota State 89-79 at the Denny Sanford Premier Center. It evened NDSU’s record for the first time this year at 16-16.
Nelson’s rebound total broke the tournament record of 21 set by Oral Roberts’ Rocky Walls in 1998 and Omaha’s Matt Pile in 2020.
“He’s different, he’s a beast,” said Bison guard Boden Skunberg. “This was crazy, he had two fewer rebounds than the whole South Dakota State team.”
NDSU outrebounded the Jacks 37-24. The Bison will face Oral Roberts, which held off a stubborn University of St. Thomas team 70-65 in the first semifinal Monday night. NDSU will be making its fifth straight title appearance and 11th overall and will be gunning for its sixth NCAA Tournament appearance.
The Bison did it with a surge of 3-pointers with under 10 minutes remaining that gave them a 20-point advantage. It reached 74-53 with seven minutes left and more importantly kept the boisterous arena crowd at minimal decibel levels.
“That first half they got on that run and the crowd got into it,” Nelson said. “It was tough for us to fight back against that but we did it. We just had to stay in them defensively and get stops and that translated over to our offense.”
Whereas true freshman Tajavis Miller was the catalyst to victory in the quarterfinals, another true freshman turned in his best effort of the season in point guard Damari Wheeler-Thomas. He ran the show and finished with 17 points and 7 assists while also providing a poised look out front in a hostile environment.
“If you didn’t know who he was, you wouldn’t have thought he’s a freshman,” Skunberg said. “He just did a great job of controlling the pace.”
It couldn’t have started any better for the Bison, who took advantage of SDSU’s 3 of 16 shooting to take a 21-6 lead on the heels of 16 straight points. Nelson already had nine rebounds before the game was nine minutes old.
Keeping the arena crowd quiet didn’t last, however. Behind a couple 3-pointers from guard Matt Mims, the Jacks slowly got back into it. Ten straight points and a 14-2 run got SDSU its first lead late in the half.
The Bison responded, however, to take a 40-34 halftime lead behind Nelson’s 13 points and 12 rebounds.
“That’s where we’ve grown so much,” said NDSU head coach Dave Richman.
That response continued in the opening minutes of the second half. Wheeler-Thomas and Skunberg did all the scoring and NDSU took a 52-41 lead, forcing an SDSU time out with 15 minutes to play. The lead reached 13 a minute later.
It reached 58-43 at the 11-minute mark on consecutive hoops from Andrew Morgan and Skunberg.
The Jackrabbits were still in the freezer from the field at 35% with Zeke Mayo, who had 41 points against the Bison earlier this season, at 2 of 13. Mayo finished 5 of 17 from the field with Wheeler-Thomas mostly guarding him.
“Damari Wheeler-Thomas was just tremendous tonight on both ends of the floor,” Richman said.
NDSU, in a reversal of many games this season, was sharp at the free throw line at 17 of 19. Nelson was 7 of 7 and center Grant Morgan 6-7 to go with his 14 points.
“I wouldn’t say one guy killed us,” said SDSU guard Alex Arians.
Said SDSU head coach Eric Henderson: “They gave us a lot of challenges on defense. Give them credit, they made shots and they scored.”
NDSU (16-16): Nelson 6-13 7-7 20, Morgan 4-6 6-7 14, Miller 2-6 2-2 6, Wheeler-Thomas 7-10 2-3 17, Skunberg 10-15 4-8 24, White 3-7 0-0 8, Streit 0-0 0-0 0, Waddles 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 32-57 17-19 89.SDSU (19-13): Dentlinger 5-10 0-0 11, Kyle III 1-3 0-1 2, Mims 6-9 3-4 19, Mayo 5-17 6-7 18, Arians 8-15 3-4 20, Mors 0-3 0-0 0, Easley 3-6 0-0 9. Totals: 28-63 12-16 79.Halftime: NDSU 40, SDSU 34. Total fouls: NDSU 15, SDSU 19. Fouled out: none. Rebounds: NDSU 37 (Nelson 22); SDSU 24 (Arians 6). 3-point goals: NDSU 8-20 (Nelson 1-4, Miller 0-2, Wheeler-Thomas 1-2, Skunberg 4-8, White 2-4); SDSU 11-22 (Dentlinger 1-1, Mims 4-7, Mayo 2-6, Mors 0-1, Arians 1-2, Easley 3-5). Assists: NDSU 18 (Wheeler-Thomas 7); SDSU 11 (Arians 5). Turnovers: NDSU 12 (Morgan, Wheeler-Thomas 3); SDSU 7 (Mayo 5). A–7,702.