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Life without Andre

FARGO -- Andre Smith, who as a senior last season led the North Dakota State men's basketball team in scoring and rebounding, returned to some Bison practices last week.

FARGO -- Andre Smith, who as a senior last season led the North Dakota State men's basketball team in scoring and rebounding, returned to some Bison practices last week.

When Smith drove, spun and sailed to the rim for a slam dunk, Bison coaches were hoping - for a brief moment - his visit was permanent.

"Whoo, we miss that," head coach Saul Phillips said as the backboard shook from Smith's acrobatics.

Yes, as numerous fans reminded Smith during last week's game against Colorado State, the Bison do miss Andre.

"No doubt about it," Phillips admitted.

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"We could have had something really special," point guard Ben Woodside said, when asked what it would have been like to have Smith one more season. "But I don't really ever think about that."

While Smith has started a professional basketball career in Europe and Japan, Woodside and his teammates are proving they can still win without Andre.

After playing seven of their first 11 games on the road that included three high-major opponents and last year's Summit League champion, the Bison have a 6-5 record entering next weekend's University of California Golden Bear Classic.

Without Andre, the Bison are scoring at a much more efficient rate than last year - leading the Summit League in scoring offense.

Without Andre, the Bison are outrebounding opponents by nearly six boards per game, ranked near the top of the Summit League.

Where the Bison may miss Andre the most is on defense. Smith could alter or block shots and could quickly end an opponent's possession with a dominant swipe of a rebound.

"Offensively, I would say our tank is four-fifths full," said Phillips. "Defensively, it's about half full. That's where our room for growth is."

Here is an analysis of NDSU's season, which after next weekend's tournament, ends with 16 Summit League games.

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Offensive machine

On his office wall, Saul Phillips has a chart marking the points per possession in each of the Bison games.

A number to strive for is 1.0. Anything over 1.2 is phenomenal according to Phillips. NDSU has had five games over 1.2 - already equaling the number of times last year's Bison team surpassed 1.2.

"I'm not a huge numbers guy, but I believe in that number," Phillips said. "It doesn't lie. It is really a telling stat."

The Bison may be missing Smith's 17-point average, but Woodside and Brett Winkelman are making up for it. They lead the Summit League in scoring with averages of 23.0 and 22.6 respectivley and rank 12th and 14th nationally.

Another junior, Mike Nelson, ranks 12th in the conference with a 14.7 average. As a result, the Bison lead the conference with 83 points per game.

"The shift of attention on Woodside has been unbelievable and we'll probably see similar attention focused on Winkelman," Phillips said. "Neither one could care less what the stats look like, as long as we are winning.

"This group is just really, really offensively gifted. Offensively, it is better than I would have ever dreamed."

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Defensive woes

While offense comes naturally for the Bison, defense has required more work.

The Bison rank eighth in the 10-team Summit League, giving up 76.7 points per game. They rank ninth in field-goal percentage defense (.483).

"I don't think we are worse defensively than last year, the improvement just hasn't come as fast as I would have liked," Phillips said. "The biggest disappointment is the number of direct line drives that we are giving up.

"We're not the quickest team in America, but we're not the slowest either. We'll see if this all balances out with more home games."

Having played only four home games, the Bison have nine conference home games remaining.

Bench play

Woodside, Winkelman and Nelson account for 60 of NDSU's 83-point scoring average. They and starters Michael Tveidt and Lucas Moormann account for 72.4 of those points.

That means the four subs - Sam Sussenguth, Fred Coleman, Austin Pennick and Josh Vaughan - are providing 11 of those 83 points.

"I am always open for greater contributions," Phillips said. "You see flashes. But our bench has to be solid for us to be able to contend."

Lorenzo Riley is expected to return next weekend after sitting out the first semester for academic reasons. The backup forward-center should help strengthen the Bison defense.

"With Lorenzo back, I can go with a big lineup and play Luke and Sam at the same time, knowing Lorenzo can fill in if they get into foul trouble," Phillips said. "It gives me a lot more flexibility."

Getting nasty

Despite what fans may have told him, Smith feels this year's Bison team is better than last year's 20-7 team.

"I don't think they miss me," Smith said. "They got heart. They just need to come up with a little bit of that nasty."

Phillips agrees, saying that Smith provided the Bison with an edge and a toughness that pulled them through many games.

"At Centenary, we showed signs of that," Phillips said, referring to NDSU's 102-99 come-from-behind, overtime win on the road. "That was a tough win.

"The last two games we have shown a toughness by taking four charges. We had only one charge for the entire season before that. It's coming. It's not exactly pouring out of the floodgates, but at least it's trickling."

The Forum and The Dickinson Press are both owned by Forum Communications Co.

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