After taking Kanas down to the wire, there were many mentions of the NDSU Bison and one of if not the best 0-4 team in the country. While being the best is something to strive for, that is not exactly the category Dave Richman and his club were hoping to be in. The Bison entered the weekend looking for their first victory of the season but had to open the Dakota Showcase against preseason Summit League favorite SDSU. The Jacks were without Summit League Player of the Year Douglas Wilson but unlike last season when Wilson was out, SDSU proved they can still be effective on both ends of the floor. The first half was all Jackrabbits as they lead by as much as 14 and took a 33-26 lead into the half. After a fairly even first few minutes of the 2nd half NDSU began to make their run with Rocky Kreuser pulling the Bison within 2 at the 11:35 mark. However, two Noah Freidel 3’s followed by 5 straight points by Baylor Scheierman quickly stretched the SDSU lead back to 11. NDSU stormed back yet again with Griesel pulling the Bison to within one at the 3:12 mark. SDSU would again stretch the lead back to 5 before NDSU made its final run as a Jarius Cook 3 and a bucked by Griesel pulled the Bison to within 1. Alex Arians would only make 1 of 2 free throws giving NDSU a shot to tie or win the game on the final possession. This is where the Bison need someone to step up and be the guy in the final seconds, Griesel had the ball in his hands but looked to pass it away, ended up turning it over and NDSU didn’t even get a shot attempt up in the final seconds. Not having a true PG that can create offense in that situation cost the Bison a chance to win their first game.
NDSU entered night 2 of the showcase against the also winless Coyotes of USD. This was NDSU’s best opportunity thus far this season to earn their first victory. USD came out of the gate with a lot of energy and the game was back and forth early before a 4-minute scoreless drought by NDSU, which have plagued the Bison early in the year, allowed USD to extend their lead to as much as 9 before NDSU battled back at the end of the first half to bring the deficit to 3. They headed into the break trailing 30-27. The 2nd half is where NDSU started to flex its muscle and play some of its best offensive basketball of the season. While they still struggled to shoot the ball from behind the arc, they became aggressive at taking the ball to the rim and continued to draw fouls on the Yotes. The Bison were in the double bonus by the 12-minute mark of the second half and rode a 19 of 21 shooting performance from the free throw line to their first victory of the season. Take out the 5-24 from behind the arc and NDSU shot 20-26 from the floor thanks to getting the ball inside in a highly efficient effort. Given the lineups Coach Richman is currently rolling with there are plenty of size mismatches in the Bison’s favor and getting the ball inside to those mismatches I believe is their best option at offensive efficiency this season.
Game 3 of the showcase was the first rematch of the season from the Summit League Championship game a year ago between the Bison and the Fighting Hawks of UND. After appearing to find their groove in the 2nd half of game 2, the Bison offense came returned to their struggling ways shooting just 43% from the field in game 3. It wasn’t necessarily a product of poor shot selection either as this was a game where both Kreuser and Griesel had good looks close to the basket and just struggled to get the shots to fall. This game was a complete grind and despite their struggles NDSU was able to keep the deficit to 3, trailing 29-26 at halftime. NDSU only converted on one basket in the first five and half minutes of the second half and as UND continued to score consistently they stretched their lead to 10 points two separate times in the 2nd half, the 2nd time with just 7:51 left in the game and with NDSU’s struggles on the offensive end it looked as though the game might be getting out of reach. That’s when the Bison defense stepped up, holding the Fighting Hawks scoreless for 7 straight minutes down the stretch while they creeped back and took the lead. After Rebraca tied the game at 52 a piece on an and-one bucket, he missed the free throw to convert the 3-point play keeping the game tied. UND would snag the offensive rebound to give them another chance at a go ahead bucket but Rebraca would miss a three-point attempt and NDSU would take over with 21 seconds to go. Griesel was able to earn himself a trip to the line and made the 1st of 2 free throws to give the Bison a 1-point lead and a last second heave by Seybian Sims would be off the mark allowing NDSU to escape with an ugly victory over their rival.
All in all, the weekend went about as expected as far as the record is concerned but NDSU’s struggles continued on the offensive end for much of the 3 games. The bright spot of the weekend was the emergence of Maleeck Harden-Hayes, he averaged 12.3 points and 5.7 rebounds per game and his 18 points and performance at the end of the first half of the SDSU game scoring 9 straight were what kept the Bison in the game and allowed the 2nd half comeback. NDSU has seen consistent scoring from its starting lineup but for this team to get where it wants to go it’s going to start needing more production from the bench. Bench players accounted for only 17 points the entire showcase averaging a measly 5.7 per game. I definitely think Jaxon Knotek can be a contributor going forward if he can get a few more minutes and the 3 freshmen should continue to contribute more as they get more comfortable in the offense. If NDSU can become more efficient on the offensive end while continuing their strong defensive performances, this will be a team right in the running at the top of the conference come tournament time.