If you were like me and showed up to the SHAC to watch the NDSU Men’s basketball team take on a Tarleton Texans team that I didn’t know much about, saw them put a starting lineup on the floor with no player taller than 6’6″ and think hey this should be an easy game for the Bison to get back on track, you were also in for a rude awakening. The only word I can use to describe Tarleton’s style of play is relentless. It reminded me a lot of NDSU’s games against Kansas City last season. It was full court, in your face pressure for 40 straight minutes and with NDSU down it’s top 2 options at point guard with Griesel still healing from surgery and Dez McKinney apparently serving a 1 game suspension, it was an absolute adventure nearly every possession. With the top 2 options out, Coach Richman went with Willie Guy in the starting lineup. While he finally got a couple of shots to fall and did deliver 4 assists in his 18 minutes he also turned the ball over twice, had it poked away out of bounds a few other times and still struggled a bit on the defensive end. The first half was a struggle the whole way through, the Bison had a nearly 11 minute stretch where they didn’t score a point and not only did they struggle to get the ball up the floor but also turned it over multiple times just trying to get it inbounds. Just when it looked like the Bison were going to head into the half with their tails between their legs and with less than 20 points on the scoreboard, Grant Nelson came to the rescue with an 8-0 run himself including a buzzer beater 3 to get the deficit down to 23-26 at the break.
The 2nd half saw a bit of a shift of strategy, Andrew Kallman and Tyree Eady split most of the duties of getting the ball up the floor, the Bison also made it a point to push the ball as much as possible in transition to try to get ahead of letting Tarleton set their defense. While things still weren’t exactly the definition of efficient, the Bison team did start to get some shots to fall and were significantly more consistent putting points on the board in the 2nd half. The problem was every time NDSU made a little run Tarleton answered and the Bison could not generate any sort of lead. Jarius Cook tied a career high with 5 3-pointers made and kept NDSU in it and even gave them their largest lead of the game at 49-44 with 4:54 remaining in the game but once again the Texans crept back and a couple of free throws at the 1:19 mark gave them the lead once again at 53-52. After a Richman timeout, the Bison went to their guy in Rocky Kreuser to make something happen and in call that could have went either way, he got to the free throw line and made both free throws to give the Bison the lead at 54-53 with 7 seconds to go. Tarleton’s final effort ended up with a drive that was well defended by NDSU resulting in a loose ball as the buzzer sounded and you could feel the collective sigh of relief from the Bison faithful as their team escaped with a win in an evening where not much went right for them.
A lot of credit goes to the players on the Texans squad as they went all out and left everything on the floor. The most amazing stat to me was that with how hard they played and the pressure they applied 3 of the starting 5 played all 40 minutes of the game, another player 39 minutes and one starter 32 but only because he fouled out with 5:13 left in the game. I feel sorry for every team that has to play that squad this season because it will be absolutely no fun whatsoever going against that pressure in any game they play in. NDSU no doubt has plenty to work on as they get set to host Idaho on Saturday evening at 7pm but as every coach will tell you, better to learn from a win than from a loss any day of the week.