Bison sinch Summit
FARGO — The last time these teams played, it was Taylor Braun who was sick. On Thursday, whatever inflicted the North Dakota State senior was transferred to the entire University of South Dakota team.
The Bison won their first Summit League men’s basketball outright regular-season title since 2009, and they practically cut the first strand of net down in the first half.
The Coyotes went the first 14 minutes of the game without a field goal, and that stretch doomed them in NDSU’s 82-54 victory before 3,804 fans at the Bison Sports Arena.
“We knew we had a two-game lead, and we just said to ourselves we didn’t want it to come down to Saturday,” Braun said. “We wanted to handle our business right now.”
The Bison moved to 11-2 in the conference and clinched the No. 1 seed for the Summit tournament. The significance is they get a first-round bye with seven teams in the field. Nebraska-Omaha is still going through a Division I reclassification and is ineligible for postseason.
The outcome was never in doubt, with Braun showing his usual status of being the best player on the floor. He finished with 15 points, 12 rebounds and six assists, but there was much more to the Bison effort than just him.
Like team defense.
“In big games, it helps to put a lid on them for a while,” said Bison head coach Saul Phillips. “We’re not done yet. It feels good having that No. 1 seed, and it feels good having that championship.”
NDSU held the Coyotes to 18 percent shooting on just 4 of 22 field goals. The Bison got a boost offensively from guard Mike Felt, whose two 3-pointers early on were his first treys since Jan. 25.
“Been on vacation, I guess,” he said.
Perhaps getting rid of the undershirt did something for the senior guard, who was 5 of 7 from 3-point range and finished with 15 points. His last one was from well beyond the arc.
“It was a big relief, but it’s good we’re still winning when I wasn’t playing my best basketball,” Felt said. “I just had to stick with it.”
His teammates never gave up, Braun said, saying they kept encouraging Felt to take the shot. Felt’s minutes for most of this month dwindled to less than 10 a game.
Meanwhile, the Bison maintained their grip in the second half, meaning about the only decision left was to figure out which ladder to use to cut down the nets.
It turned into an impromptu ceremony.
The last time that happened at the BSA was 1981. Probably appropriately, the last game in the building will be Saturday when NDSU hosts Denver.