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With the Fab Four gone, NDSU's men's basketball team starts a new era

They remember the shot as if it were yesterday. Josh Vaughan, Austin Pennick, Sam Sussenguth and Dejuan Flowers had a front-row seat for Ben Woodside's game-winning shot last March that gave North Dakota State's men's basketball a Summit League c...

New Look Bison
NDSU's new starting lineup in last week's exhibition game against Minnesota State-Moorhead was, left to right, Josh Vaughan, Michael Tveidt, Austin Pennick, Sam Sussenguth and Eric Carlson. Photo by Carrie Snyder / The Forum

They remember the shot as if it were yesterday.

Josh Vaughan, Austin Pennick, Sam Sussenguth and Dejuan Flowers had a front-row seat for Ben Woodside's game-winning shot last March that gave North Dakota State's men's basketball a Summit League championship and a berth into the NCAA Tournament.

They were backups clutching their arms together before storming the court in celebration.

Vaughan remembers getting knocked to the floor twice when the crowd mobbed the Sioux Falls Arena floor in celebration. Flowers, who transferred from a junior college in California for that magical season, never experienced a championship game like that before. Pennick was praying a desperation 40-foot shot at the buzzer would not end NDSU's season. Sussenguth simply called it nerve-wracking.

"It's actually harder when you're watching the games than when you're playing," Sussenguth said.

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Well, they get to play now - starting with Friday's season-opening game at Utah Valley.

With the graduation of four-year starters Woodside, Brett Winkelman, Mike Nelson and Lucas Moormann, the Bison will unveil a new look. Now, Vaughan, Pennick, Sussenguth and Flowers will be the lone seniors for a team that will try to answer the following questions: How do you replace an offense that included the Nos. 1, 2 and 7 all-time leading scorers? Can the Bison contend for a second straight Summit League championship? Do they have any chance of reaching the NCAA Tournament again?

When the Bison warmed up for their first exhibition game last week against Minnesota State Moorhead, Vaughan couldn't help but notice that indeed it will be different.

"When I didn't see Woody, Winks and Dimer (Nelson) out there, that's when it hit me that this is going to be different," said Vaughan, who has this reply to those who think this will be a down year. "Nobody has ever really seen us play. We were recruited to come here and play, too. We sat on the bench for four years and waited our turns. Now we have to show people what we can do."

What the Bison have done so far is post exhibition wins over Division II MSUM (88-71) and Division III Concordia (82-62). What they showed is a team that will rely on the leadership of the four seniors and junior Michael Tveidt, the only returning starter from last year; scoring and rebounding from sophomore Eric Carlson while hoping for production from newcomers Mike Felt, Nate Zastrow and Jordan Aaberg.

It will be a different looking team than the one that posted a 26-7 overall record last year, winning eight of nine road games in The Summit League. It was a team that shot 48 percent from the field, outscoring opponents 81-69. It was also a team that had the same starting lineup in all 33 games.

"What ... we lost 80 percent of our scoring?" Sussenguth said. "You know people are thinking it could be a down year. You kind of expect that. All I know is we can all play. We just haven't had the chance."

Indeed.

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Sussenguth averaged six minutes of playing time. Pennick averaged 5.6 minutes. Flowers, Vaughan and Carlson played significantly more, averaging between 10 to 15 minutes. The 6-foot-7 Flowers averaged 3.6 points and 3.3 rebounds while Vaughan, counted on to be this year's starting point guard, averaged 2.8 points and 1.8 rebounds.

"There's a lot of people out there who haven't done it before," said Bison head coach Saul Phillips. "I think they can. I have a lot of faith in this team, but a lot of things will not come easy this season."

Vaughan is tabbed to replace Woodside as the team leader.

"The big thing I learned from Woody and Winks is you have to be a leader when it's going bad more than when it's going good," Vaughan said. "We have to take care of ball, because we know we won't have as much offensive explosion. But I do think we are better defensively than last year already."

"It helps playing against Woodside, Winkelman and Nelson every year," said Pennick, who will be counted on to be a defensive specialist once again this season.

Offensively, Tveidt will be looked at to provide a bulk of the points. The

6-foot-7 junior averaged nearly 10 points last season - scoring a game-high 21 points in The Summit League championship win over Oakland.

"I don't think we will have trouble putting points on the board, we'll just be more spread out for scoring," Tveidt said.

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It was Tveidt who hit some key 3-pointers down the stretch in the come-from-behind win over Oakland in The Summit League championship game.

And it was Tveidt who was the only one on this year's team who was on the floor when Woodside hit the game-winning shot. That's when Tveidt threw a fist pump in the air, sprinted down court and watched Johnathon Jones' heave bounce off the back of the rim.

"It was a great learning experience for everybody," Tveidt said. "That memory will stay with us for a long time. It's still pretty fresh, but now it's time to put that behind us and move on."

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549

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