SDSU holds off Bison for 2nd title
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. -- The Summit League basketball tournament is turning into the South Dakota State Invitational. For the second straight year, both the Jackrabbits men's and women's programs are NCAA-bound.
Armed with the support of at least 90 percent of the fans in the Sioux Falls Arena crowd of 6,544 and a point guard who simply makes a difference every minute, SDSU defeated North Dakota State 73-67 Tuesday night.
The Bison battled. Forward Taylor Braun had a spirited performance with 23 points in a hostile environment, but the Bison didn't get enough help consistently from anybody else.
SDSU guard Nate Wolters, who did more than just his 27 points, had two teammates in double figures and another who hit all three of his 3-point shots.
"Obviously a lot on the line tonight," Braun said. "Both teams fought, but they made a few more plays than we did."
Those plays kept the SDSU crowd in a tizzy, something that NDSU head coach Saul Phillips said he would like to see different next year.
"Fair has nothing to do with life or college basketball," he said of the tourney being in Sioux Falls. "Forget all that noise. This is a great environment. Look at our conference tournament to conferences around the nation, where there are empty gyms. This is special.
"We can make that gym balance out. We can even this place out. They don't start selling Summit tickets in secret. I'm challenging our fans. Let's fill this bad boy up next year with us."
NDSU's season is probably not over, although that was of little consolation to Phillips. He pointed to NDSU being 18-4 with Braun in the lineup.
"If they factor in injuries, there is no doubt we're in," he said. "I'm telling you, we belong there."
It was the first meeting for a conference tourney title between the two schools since a 1980 North Central Conference clash in Brookings. It was the fifth postseason meeting and the first since a 1996 Division II regional semifinal. SDSU now holds the tournament series lead 3-2.
The history of the Summit didn't favor the Bison going in, with only two No. 3 seeds winning it, the last Wright State (Ohio) in 1993. That's when the league had a much different look and was known as the Mid-Continent Conference.
And this year's history wasn't favoring NDSU after it went to the locker room trailing 29-25 at halftime. The Bison came in with a 1-5 record when behind at the break.
"We love playing here," Wolters said.
Phillips thought his team wasn't aggressive enough. If it weren't for Braun being the only player capable of cracking the SDSU defense, the spread would have been larger. He had almost half of his team's offensive production at that point.
"Taylor carried us offensively tonight," said Bison guard Lawrence Alexander. "They just ended up making more plays than we did."
He had NDSU's first two points of the second half, but that came after seven straight by the Jacks to open an 11-point advantage. It was 48-36 when Braun and Mike Felt hit back-to-back 3-pointers to keep NDSU in the ballpark.
The Bison kept swinging. Later, Felt's attempt at a tie bounced off the rim. On the other end, Jordan Dykstra's 3-pointer with 4:27 left made it a 60-54 advantage.
"NDSU put it out there just as much as we did," said SDSU center Tony Fiegen. "They battled."
That turned out to be a decisive two possessions. The Bison never did get closer than six points the rest of the way until Nate Zastrow's 3-pointer with 4 seconds left.
"It's a terrible feeling right now," Braun said. "I feel bad for Nate being the only senior. He put his heart into everything. I wanted to send him to the tournament."
But it is SDSU that is going, again.
"I think being in this last year was helpful to our players," said SDSU head coach Scott Nagy. "Last year we felt a little overwhelmed, a little tight."
NDSU (24-9): Wright 3-9 2-2 9, Bjorklund 4-5 0-0 8, Alexander 1-7 4-4 7, Brown 3-4 0-0 6, Braun 9-18 4-4 23, Felt 3-8 0-0 9, VandenBergh 0-1 0-0 0, Kading 1-1 0-0 2, Zastrow 1-1 0-0 3. Totals: 25-54 10-10 67.
SDSU (25-9): Fiegen 5-11 2-2 12, Dykstra 5-9 7-7 18, Wolters 8-15 9-10 27, Carlson 3-5 0-0 9, White 2-6 0-0 4, Bittle 0-0 1-2 1, Heemstra 0-2 2-2 2. Totals: 23-48 21-23 73.
Halftime: SDSU 29, NDSU 25. Total fouls: NDSU 19, SDSU 11. Fouled out: Wright. Rebounds: NDSU 26 (Wright 8); SDSU 29 (Dykstra 7). 3-point goals: NDSU 7-20 (Wright 1-4, Alexander 1-3, Braun 1-5, VandenBergh 0-1, Felt 3-6, Zastrow 1-1); SDSU 6-16 (Dykstra 1-4, Wolters 2-6, Carlson 3-3, White 0-3). Assists: NDSU 9 (Alexander 4); SDSU 12 (Wolters 6). Turnovers: NDSU 10 (Braun 3); SDSU 7 (Wolters 3). A-6,544.