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Semifinal matchup: Bison youngsters will get another test in the loud house

North Dakota State will most likely need its freshmen to play like veterans against the Jackrabbits

The 2023 Summit League Basketball Championship
A.J. Plitzuweit (10) of the South Dakota Coyotes bolts to the basket against Damari Wheeler-Thomas (10) of the North Dakota State Bison at the Summit League men's basketball tournament Sunday, March 5, 2023, at the Denny Sanford Premier Center in Sioux Falls, S.D.
Dave Eggen/Inertia

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — North Dakota State brought five true freshmen to the Summit League men’s basketball tournament this weekend. In Sunday night’s quarterfinals, they got a taste of the Denny Sanford Premier Center heat against the University of South Dakota.

Guard Tajavis Miller was ice when he needed to be and his two game-winning plays sent the Bison to tonight’s semifinal matchup against South Dakota State. If it got a little toasty against the Coyotes, located an hour south in Vermillion, it will get roasty against the Jackrabbits.

SDSU brings the fan base and will probably have 95% of the fan attention. NDSU’s young kids are sure to be tested again.

“The reality is there’s a bunch of young, inexperienced guys out there for us that in a lot of ways bought into everything we asked for,” said Bison head coach Dave Richman. “The older guys are highly accountable, we tell them the truth, we ask them to be better no matter how good they are and they keep showing up.”

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Miller made the key plays in the 70-68 win over the Coyotes. He’ll be counted on for more of the same tonight along with true freshman starting guard Damari Wheeler-Thomas and perhaps backup guard Lance Waddles, another true freshman.


True freshman forward Sam Hastreiter has seen spot duty in a backup role this season and 6-10 true freshman Noah Feddersen is redshirting. In the age of the transfer portal, the Bison brought in a large freshman class, which is seemingly rare in these days of college basketball.

“I’ll be honest, I don’t know if I’ll ever do it again with five freshmen,” Richman said. “I don’t know if my stress level can handle it. But at this point I’m really glad we did with this group.”

NDSU has relied on juniors Grant Nelson and Boden Skunberg most of the season. The Bison have seven players on their roster who had never stepped into the Denny Sanford Premier Center as a college player.

"The whole team is different," Nelson said. "We're different but we've got the same program and we're sticking to what's been working for years."

The Jackrabbits will have the edge in overall experience with veteran seniors like guard Alex Arians and center Matt Dentlinger. Guards Charley Easley and Matt Mims have been around a while. It will be a rematch of last year’s Summit title game when the Jackrabbits defeated the Bison 75-69 before 10,072 fans.

“Our guys understand, this is a great win,” Richman said following the USD game. “But if we don’t get this great win, we don’t get the opportunity for tomorrow night. Now we need to flush it and get ready for a tremendous challenge.”

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Jeff would like to dispel the notion he was around when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, but he is on his third decade of reporting with Forum Communications. The son of a reporter and an English teacher, and the brother of a reporter, Jeff has worked at the Jamestown Sun, Bismarck Tribune and since 1990 The Forum, where he's covered North Dakota State athletics since 1995.
Jeff has covered all nine of NDSU's Division I FCS national football titles and has written three books: "Horns Up," "North Dakota Tough" and "Covid Kids." He is the radio host of "The Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack" April through August.
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