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NDSU shows toughness in Sooners game

Photo by Kirby Lee / USA TODAY North Dakota State guard Taylor Braun, right, celebrates in overtime during the second round of the 2014 NCAA Tournament against Oklahoma on Thursday at Veterans Memorial Arena. The Bison defeated the Sooners 80-75.

SPOKANE, Wash. — North Dakota State center Marshall Bjorklund on Friday looked more like somebody who just went through a boxing match than an NCAA basketball tournament game. His teammate, guard Taylor Braun, didn’t look much better.

Black eyes. Facial bruises. There was a liberal use of ice after the upset of Oklahoma on Thursday night.

“A few scratches I guess, nothing too serious that will keep us out of the game,” Bjorklund said.

The Bison advanced to the Round of 32 at 4:10 p.m. today against San Diego State with a street-fighting mentality that may not look pretty, but it’s working.

“We’re a tough group,” Braun said. “We’ve been through worse, so it’s not going to be an issue.”

It’s a foregone conclusion that physical play will be an issue today against the Aztecs. Both teams prefer that style over end-to-end action. NDSU head coach Saul Phillips said Friday his players in the locker room after the Sooners game looked like former boxer Chuck Wepner after a fight.

“Do you know what our trainer used to close the cuts?” Phillips said. “Super glue. Apparently this is medically good. It’s going to be physical. It is. There is no way around it.”

Add a black eye to the list of Bjorklund’s season of bumps and bruises and whatever else.

“Well, there’s nothing about us that is pretty,” Phillips said. “Come on, let’s be honest, we’re the great unwashed. Here we are and that’s why it’s fun.”

The Bison became just the second school to win an FCS national title and an NCAA tournament game in the same year. Villanova did it in 2010, beating Montana for the ’09 FCS crown and beating Robert Morris in the NCAA tournament.

Taking it further, NDSU is the only FCS school ever to win a football title, an NCAA basketball tourney game and a wrestling regional title.

They’re seeing their program on the 24-hour ESPN news cycle, something that is usually reserved for the major-conference programs.

“Seeing it all over ‘SportsCenter’ has been really cool,” said forward Chris Kading.

That coolness, however, eventually faded the more the Bison got into looking at San Diego State. Braun said he started to file away the Oklahoma win not long after the game after answering many of the same questions.

“By the time I got back to the hotel, I was trying to find stuff about San Diego State,” Braun said.

The teams last met in 1971, with SDSU holding a 3-0 series advantage. The Aztecs are second in the country in scoring defense, giving up just 56.6 points a game.

Translation: Considering NDSU’s offensive efficiency — the Bison lead the country in field-goal percentage — don’t look for a high-scoring game.

“What we’re doing is not rocket science,” Phillips said. “It’s you get good players, you put them in a system and you allow them to play out of that system.”

And that system includes an element of toughness. It’s clearly visible on the players’ faces.

“I don’t care about the rule changes, it’s physical in basketball,” Phillips said.

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.