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Photo of Bison Sports Arena by David Samson / Forum News Service

Bye-bye, BSA: Construction on new Scheels Arena to begin right after season ends

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FARGO — As impressive as the conference RPI has been for the Summit League – it’s at an all-time Division I high – the funds being put into a construction boom is even more grandiose. Four schools are spending a combined $244 million on facility upgrades.

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That includes North Dakota State’s $41 million Scheels Center, which is expected to open in two years. It means there are only seven games left in the Bison Sports Arena.

“There will be no tears when we play the final game in this building,” said Bison head men’s basketball coach Saul Phillips.

The tears will probably be for the six seniors who are on their last leg of home games. All are Summit games that add to the intensity of it all starting tonight with Nebraska-Omaha.

It’s not as if there will be any farewell BSA tour for the Bison players, who haven’t known anything else.

“We couldn’t imagine any other home for us,” said center Marshall Bjorklund. “A lot of us seniors talked about never being able to play in the new arena. We’re not too upset about it at all. This is home to us.”

Construction is set to begin not long after the Bison host the University of Denver on March 1. The entire complex including a basketball training facility will be named the Sanford Health Athletic Complex, but the main venue will be the 5,700-seat Scheels Center.

It was a project the current seniors thought might be for them when they came here as freshmen.

“Once they’ve gone through and had a positive experience, I don’t think any of them would trade their experience for a new building,” Phillips said.

It’s a nice thought, said senior forward TrayVonn Wright, who has provided the BSA without a doubt the most memorable slam dunks in the building’s 44-year history.

“It’s grown on me over the years, coming in here in the summer and shooting by myself,” Wright said. “Nothing in here is really cool or anything, but you just kind of like it for what it is. You feel like it’s home when you come here to work out.”

Omaha is expected to give the Bison a workout in transition basketball, averaging 83.3 points per game. That would put them 17th in the country if they counted in the official Division I statistics.

The Mavericks are in their third year of a five-year Division I reclassification and not eligible for postseason. But they can win a regular-season Summit title, and the Bison game tonight represents a big target for them.

Plus, the Mavericks provide fans a familiar opponent in a conference that earlier this week had the 14th-best RPI out of 32 Division I leagues. NDSU will play a Division I opponent at home with school in session for the first time since facing Southern Mississippi on Nov. 18.

“The crowds have gotten bigger over the years,” Wright said. “We hope our last few home games are our best home games.”

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