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Jeff Kolpack, Published March 12 2009

Welcome back, champs: Hundreds show up to greet Bison as they return home

Ben Woodside hit the winning shot Tuesday night that sent the North Dakota State men’s basketball team to the NCAA tournament. He did it in front of more than 3,000 fans and a national television audience.

But talking to a few hundred fans who welcomed the NDSU players home Wednesday afternoon at the Bison Sports Arena was harder on the nerves.

“Probably speaking to a crowd” was tougher, he said. “The last shot was all instinct. As soon as I let it go, it felt comfortable.”

Woodside’s shot gave NDSU a 66-64 win over Oakland University (Mich.) and The Summit League tournament title. It punched the Bison’s ticket to the NCAA tourney, the field of which will be announced Sunday.

As the day wore on Wednesday, the welcome-home concept grew in stature. NDSU assistant athletic director Troy Goergen said his staff was gearing up for Sunday’s selection show before switching gears to the Wednesday celebration.

“There’s so much enthusiasm that people were just jumping on board,” he said.

The welcoming committee caught the Bison players by surprise, who heard on the bus back from Sioux Falls, S.D., that some people were waiting for them.

“They told us there were going to be a few people here, and we thought that would be a few people waiting outside,” forward Michael Tveidt said. “And when we pulled up, there were a few people outside. But then we came inside and the bleacher was full. That was awesome.”

NDSU athletic director Gene Taylor, school President Joseph Chapman and head coach Saul Phillips also addressed the crowd. It’s a day veteran Bison fans probably never envisioned.

“Maybe saw it as a pipe dream or a fantasy,” said Steve Glunberg, who has closely followed the team since Erv Inniger was the head coach in the 1980s. “The expectations were so high for this team that I thought maybe it was unlikely they would meet them. But they did it.”

Jeff Kolpack can be heard on the Saturday Morning Sports Show from 10 a.m. to noon on WDAY-AM (970). He can be reached at (701) 241-5546

Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found

at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia