McFeely: It's March and the Bison are in Sioux Falls, so of course they won
Despite a shaky end to the regular season that angered coach Dave Richman, NDSU advances to Summit League tournament semifinals
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Do not question Dave Richman in March.
Do not question Dave Richman in March.
Repeat after me.
Do not question Dave Richman in March.
Whatever ails the North Dakota State men's basketball team November through February, the coach finds the cure once his squad heads four hours south to the Denny Sanford Premier Center.
We should know this after all these years. Richman has won three Summit League tournament championships in his previous eight years. The Bison have made the title game the last four seasons. NDSU is 17-5 all-time at the Summit League tournament under Richman.
Sunday night served as a reminder.
The Bison beat South Dakota 70-68 in a thriller quarterfinal at the Summit League tournament, looking inspired one week after Richman seemed ready to disown them, leave Fargo and live by himself in a shack in the woods.
And he felt that way after a victory, which made you wonder exactly how his young team would respond.
The Process, capital "P" because Richman uses the word so much, works.
It helps when true freshman Tajavis Miller follows a clutch 3-pointer by leaping to the ceiling to block Damani Hayes' shot in the final seconds to save the day. It also helps when you have Grant Nelson go for 23 points and 11 rebounds.
"This is about as proud of any team as I've been through my tenure," Richman said at his postgame press conference, flanked by Nelson and Boden Skunberg. "They coined the phrase Baby Bison. We've got seven guys on this roster that have never been in this building. And we just played a team that all their main six or seven guys have played multiple games in here. So a lot of credit to these guys and a lot of credit to that entire locker room."
Richman took his share of heat from fans and local media jackals after playing Capt. Buzzkill Sourpuss following NDSU's 71-69 over Western Illinois at the SHAC last Saturday. The Bison won on a thrilling buzzer-beater by Skunberg to ignite a nice crowd in the final regular-season game of the season.
But the Bison played poorly and undisciplined in the second half, blowing a 16-point lead before Skunberg's heroics, leading Richman to rip his team publicly after the game in every forum made available to him.
The optics were not great.
Richman didn't back down after that game and he didn't back down after beating the Coyotes. Why would he?
"We've got resilient guys. I'm not going to apologize for telling them the truth. I'm not going to apologize for wanting them to be better," he said. "They know who Dave Richman is. I'm not here to be their friend. I'm not here to be their buddy. I'm here to coach and they did not play very well in the second half against Western Illinois. And we missed an opportunity to get better. We reset and got after it this week in practice, just like I knew we would. We have great character and that's the No. 1 priority."
Could his team respond?
Pfft. That was February, silly.
NDSU was engaged and played hard from the jump against South Dakota. Effort and lack of discipline were not the problem. Nelson was wonderful in what could have been his last game in a Bison uniform.
Now he'll be back at least one more time, Monday night against South Dakota State in the semifinals.
But some of the same shortcomings that plagued the Bison during the year, particularly away from Fargo, appeared again.
NDSU couldn't find anybody who could consistently hit a jump shot. The Bison went 7 minutes without a field goal late in the second half. At times, Nelson was their only hope to score.
No apologies from Richman.
"It's March, you know? Survive and advance," he said. "Just talk about the positive. I knew this was going to be like this. I knew Tajavis' first shot was probably going to be a six-mile airball just like it was. We joked about it during the game. These guys just have to get comfortable."
And free throws. So often the free throws. NDSU was 20 of 28 from the line during a game in which every point was precious.
"Boden's got a great line. 'We're not here for a long time, we're here for a great time,' " Richman said.
It's March and Dave Richman has his team in Sioux Falls. Let the great times roll.