Carlson gaining momentum: Bison senior tries to keep broken jaw from ruining seasonFARGO — The recovery from a broken jaw that caused Eric Carlson to miss a good chunk of this season wasn’t that painful, he said. But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t pain.
By: Jeff Kolpack, The Dickinson Press
FARGO — The recovery from a broken jaw that caused Eric Carlson to miss a good chunk of this season wasn’t that painful, he said. But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t pain.
The owner of 49 career starts at North Dakota State and 90 games played overall suddenly found himself in an unusual spot: at the end of the bench. And it didn’t end when he put the uniform back on in December, either.
NDSU found a rotation it liked in his absence. And combined with the lost weight and strength of not being able to eat solid founds for an extended period because his jaw was wired shut, the 6-foot-6 Carlson was more of a cheerleader than a floor leader.
“I kind of expected it in a sense, because we were doing well,” he said. “I had to try to find a spot somewhere to fit in.”
Still, even the “hang in there Eric” lines started to get old. He averaged four minutes a game of playing time in the first seven games of January, and that included 11 in a mop-up role in a rout of the University of South Dakota.
The low was one minute at the University of North Dakota and two minutes at Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne. Not what the senior was hoping for in his last season.
“I could kind of see it wasting away,” Carlson said.
Tuning out the season was a concern of the coaching staff, too, especially with Carlson already having his undergraduate degree and currently going for his MBA.
“You wonder if he thinks, ‘That’s enough, it was a good career,’” said Bison head coach Saul Phillips. “Some would have. Fortunately, he has enough competitive spirit to try and get it done one way or another.”
The turning point was almost dramatic. With NDSU stuck in a three-game losing streak, Phillips inserted both he and senior guard Drew Lundberg into the starting lineup at Oakland University (Mich.) in the last game of January.
Carlson had nine points and nine rebounds in 31 minutes and the Bison won at OU for the first time.
NDSU’s results have been mixed since the win at Oakland, going 2-2. But Carlson had 19 points in 30 minutes off the bench to help rally the Bison to a win at USD last Saturday. Tonight, NDSU travels back to its border state to play South Dakota State at Frost Arena.
“I guess we feel like we owe them one for them taking one here,” said Carlson, referring to last month’s 91-88 SDSU overtime win in Fargo. “But beyond that, it will be a fun game.”
Carlson is expected to play a prominent part in a reserve role. Starting, he said, doesn’t matter. Finishing does, something that’s hard to do from the end of the bench.
“That was tough, but at the same time, you have to play the cards you’ve been dealt,” he said.
Kolpack is a sports reporter for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.