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'I want to make some noise in the tournament,' Bison star says of Big Dance matchup with Sooners

TrayVonn Wright takes a self portrait with teammates, frm left, A.J.Jacobson, Mike Felt, Brett VandenBergh, Chris Kading and Carlin Dupree Sunday before the NCAA selection show at the Bison Sports Arena. David Samson / The Forum

FARGO – There was one final cheer in the Bison Sports Arena after all. It was reserved for the biggest announcement any Division I basketball program in the country could ever hope for: An official invitation to the NCAA tournament.

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North Dakota State was awarded the 12th seed in the West Region and will play No. 5 Oklahoma at 5:27 p.m. MDT Thursday in Spokane, Wash. The Bison (25-6) earned the automatic berth by virtue of winning the Summit League tournament last week in Sioux Falls, S.D.

The No. 12 seed is the highest for a Summit team since Valparaiso was a 12 in 1997. It was the second-highest ever for the league.

“It was a good feeling but at the same time I want to make some noise in the tournament,” said Bison guard Taylor Braun. “I don’t want a team that just makes it there, gets crushed and goes home.”

About 500 fans showed up on late Sunday afternoon at the BSA and watched the CBS Selection Show on the video scoreboard. When Oklahoma was announced as the No. 5 seed in Spokane, there was an obvious sense of anticipation since ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi had predicted NDSU would be a 12 playing in Spokane.

Lunardi was right.

“I’m not an emotional guy, but hearing that gets your heart racing,” said center Marshall Bjorklund. “It hits home and shows the work that this team put forth all year. It’s something I know none of us will forget.”

It’s the second time an NDSU team has seen its name on Selection Sunday. The 2009 team won the Summit in the school’s first year of Division I postseason eligibility after completing its Division I reclassification.

The Bison, then a 14 seed, lost to Kansas in the first round at the Metrodome in Minneapolis. NDSU got the No. 12 seed this year because it had a higher RPI power ranking and defeated high-major Notre Dame, Mid-American Conference champion Western Michigan and Colonial Athletic Association champ Delaware.

“We did well for our league,” said NDSU head coach Saul Phillips. “Now we have a chance to go out and show the world what we have.”

The other second-round matchup (two first-round play-in games are Tuesday) at the 12,000-seat Spokane Arena pits No. 4 San Diego State against No. 13 New Mexico State. That winner plays the NDSU-Oklahoma victor on Saturday with the winner getting a ticket to the Sweet 16.

NDSU opened the viewing party by announcing the floor of the soon-to-be-renovated BSA will be named after DuPont Pioneer, which made an undisclosed gift to the project. The Scheels Center will be the main piece of the $41 million Sanford Health Athletic Complex when the facility re-opens in about two years.

“To have that shovel in the ground will make a world of difference,” Phillips said. “Now where do we take it? I know this helps. A guy like Taylor Braun wouldn’t be here if we didn’t make the tournament (in 2009).”

Instead of getting on a bus to Minneapolis, this year’s version will take a charter flight on Tuesday to Spokane. By then, the excitement of Sunday’s announcement will be long gone. It was already behind Bjorklund and Braun a half hour after they learned of their seed.

“I had my days to be excited and they were memorable moments,” Braun said. “But I’m ready to go to work.”

Jeff Kolpack
Jeff Kolpack covers North Dakota State athletics, the Fargo Marathon and golf for The Forum. His blog can be accessed at On the radio, Kolpack & Izzo sports talk show runs from 9-11 a.m. every Saturday morning. April through August, the WDAY Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack runs from 8-9 a.m.