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NDSU finally defeats Western Illinois to reach Summit tourney title game

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - If these teams played football, nobody would score a touchdown. If North Dakota State and Western Illinois played soccer, one goal would probably win it.

TrayVonn Wright of North Dakota State
TrayVonn Wright of North Dakota State spots up for a jumper over Jack Houpt and Ceola Clark III of Western Illinois during the second half of a Summit League men's tournament semifinal game on Monday in Sioux Falls. Dave Eggen / Inertia Sports

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - If these teams played football, nobody would score a touchdown. If North Dakota State and Western Illinois played soccer, one goal would probably win it.

But the sport is basketball and for the first time since 2009, NDSU has a chance to go dancing. The Bison erased five straight losses to Western Illinois Monday night with a 55-43 victory at the Sioux Falls Arena. NDSU will take on South Dakota State 8 p.m. today for the Summit League tournament men's basketball title and the automatic NCAA tournament berth.

"There will be no fatigue," Bison forward Taylor Braun said of three games in three days. "We're young and we're playing for a chance to go to NCAA tournament,"

There was no getting around the injury bug for Western. Starting center Terrell Parks, who hadn't played the prior three games because of an ankle injury, warmed up but did not play.

"It helped Parks wasn't in there but we came out with a lot of energy," Braun said.

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Then, with 9:20 to play, point guard Ceola Clark went down in screaming pain after landing awkwardly on a jump stop.

NDSU had a 37-30 lead at that point. Instead of folding with their two stars out, the Leathernecks grabbed some new-found enthusiasm pulling within

39-37.

"They played with a pretty big spark," Braun said. "(Assistant coach Dave Richman) said to us in the huddle to expect that, so we tried to handle it the best we could."

But that's when reality hit the Leathernecks. TrayVonn Wright restored order with two 3-point field goals and the Leathernecks had trouble finding any kind of quality shot on offense.

"That pretty much took our spirit out," WIU head coach Jim Molinari said of the two 3s.

Meanwhile, Wright was inflicting damage all night finishing with 19 points on 5 of 8 from 3-point range.

"I just felt it tonight," Wright said. "I didn't shoot that well in warm-ups but I was open. After the second one, which was kind of deep, I thought it might be a good night."

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The low-scoring affair was like every other Bison-Leathernecks game in the last couple of years. In most matchups, a four-point advantage is not a big deal - South Dakota State overcame a double-digit deficit when it defeated Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne in the first semifinal.

Not with NDSU-WIU. Any sort of multi-possession lead was treated like gold.

So when Wright nailed a 3-pointer early in the second half that gave the Bison a 31-22 advantage, NDSU looked to be in control.

The advantage was still nine, 37-28, when WIU took time out with 11:29 remaining. The Bison were on the verge of a slugfest knockout punch.

It never came until a few minutes after Clark left.

"We just wanted to do it for Ceola," said WIU forward Don McAvoy. "Ceola built a legacy here. This team is built around him. We just wanted to play as hard as we could for him."

Braun added 14 points for NDSU, but this game was won on defense. WIU hit just 15 of 42 for 36 percent.

NDSU (24-8): Wright 6-11 2-2 19, Bjorklund 2-4 2-4 6, Alexander 3-7 0-0 7, Brown 2-3 0-0 4, Braun 3-11 8-8 14, Felt 1-2 0-0 3, VandenBergh 0-0 0-0 0, Kading 1-1 0-0 2, Aaberg 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 18-39 12-14 55.

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WIU (22-8): Houpt 3-7 0-0 7, Link 3-7 6-6 12, Ochereobia 1-5 0-0 2, Clark 2-9 4-4 9, Roberts-Burnett 3-4 0-3 3, Foster 1-5 0-2 2, McAvoy 2-5 0-0 5. Totals: 15-42 10-15 43.

Halftime: NDSU 24, WIU 20. Total fouls: NDSU 14, WIU 15. Fouled out: none. Rebounds: NDSU 30 (Wright, Braun 7); WIU 21 (Link 8). 3-point goals: NDSU 7-14 (Wright 5-8, Alexander 1-3, Braun 0-2, Felt 1-1); WIU 3-16 (Houpt 1-5, Clark 1-5, Foster 0-4, McAvoy 1-2). Assists: NDSU 11 (Braun 4); WIU 6 (Clark 2). Turnovers: NDSU 10 (Braun 4); WIU 7 (McAvoy 3). A-6,676.

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546.

Kolpack's NDSU media blog can be found

at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia

Related Topics: BASKETBALL
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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