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By Kevin Schnepf and Jeff Kolpack, Published March 21 2009

North Dakota State stays away from zone defense

MINNEAPOLIS – North Dakota State hadn’t used a zone defense all season. And it wasn’t about to in its first NCAA tournament in an effort to stop Kansas center Cole Aldrich, who had eight dunks.

The stout, 6-foot-11 Aldrich was a terror inside in his team’s 84-74 win over NDSU in the first round of the NCAA tournament at the Metrodome.

“It’s not what we do,” said Bison head coach Saul Phillips, well aware Baylor used a zone to upset Kansas in the opening-round of last week’s Big 12 Conference tournament.

“We had a week to prepare and I am proud of the way we prepared,” Phillips said. “We needed them to turn the ball over a little more and just not shoot it quite as well with difficult shots. It didn’t happen.”

Kansas head coach Bill Self, who himself was contemplating using a zone to slow down the 37-point performance of Bison point guard Ben Woodside, said he was not surprised that NDSU stuck with its man-to-man defense.

“I think they have a 2-3 zone which is brought out of the archives about as much as our 2-3 is,” Self said. “They don’t play zone. That didn’t surprise me because that’s not who they are. If you are going to go down, you’re going to go down doing what you have the most confidence in.”

Inexperience shows

Kansas entered the game with 37 years worth of NCAA tournament experience.

NDSU had zero.

But that was also an adrenalin lift for the Bison, something Self said was a factor in trying to hold off NDSU.

“One thing that is really positive for us is this was a harder game from an emotional standpoint than I think maybe outside people think,” Self said. “Because you talk about their experience. And they are experienced, but this is their first deal. They had a free shot today and that’s the way it should be. And that’s why upsets occur.”

Moreover, it was the first tournament game for everybody on the Kansas roster with the exception of guard Sherron Collins and center Cole Aldrich. Those two showed no signs of jitters from the outset.

The Jayhawks got no help from their bench, which scored just two points – the fewest by their reserves this season.

‘We left it all out there’

NDSU certainly didn’t lack effort Friday.

Right from the start, the Bison set the tone when Lucas Moormann dove out of bounds to save one loose ball and Brett Winkelman dove to floor trying to chase down another.

“Tough loss, but we left it all out there,” said Moormann, who along Winkelman, Ben Woodside and Mike Nelson, played in his last game for the Bison. “The tourney experience … it couldn’t have gotten much better. It’s definitely more than I ever imagined coming in as a freshman and redshirting. It was a great ride.”

Taste of the tourney

Talk about an experience.

Junior backups Sam Sussenguth and Dejuan Flowers got valuable NCAA tournament experience that they hope they can use again next year.

Sussenguth, a 6-foot-8 post from Willmar, Minn., who averaged only 5.7 minutes of playing time per game this season, logged 15 minutes against Kansas. Flowers, a 6-7 post from Shakopee, Minn., logged 17 minutes – nearly two more minutes than his average.

“I felt pretty good,” said Flowers, who had two points, five rebounds and three blocked shots. “It felt great to be part of the NCAA tournament.”

Both Sussenguth and Flowers saw more minutes when starting center Lucas Moormann and forward Michael Tveidt got into foul trouble.

“I don’t think I played this much all year,” said Sussenguth, who was one of four Bison players trying to stop Kansas center Cole Aldrich. “I knew I had to be ready to go today.”

Summit League smiling

When the Bison players ran out onto the Metrodome court 25 minutes before game time, the sea of Bison fans roared and Tom Douple smiled.

Douple is the commissioner of The Summit League, the conference in which the Bison won the regular-season title and postseason tournament. This is Douple’s fourth NCAA tournament as the commissioner, watching Oral Roberts lose in the opening round the last three years.

“This is the most exposure our league has ever gotten because it is such a great story,” Douple said, referring to NDSU becoming the first team since 1970 to qualify during its first year of eligibility. “Then you have the four seniors. It just sells itself.”

Just like last week’s Summit League tournament in Sioux Falls, S.D., that set attendance records. And perhaps a league record for the longest ESPN highlight after NDSU’s Summit League championship win over Oakland University.

“We got four minutes on ESPN that night … we never got that before,” Douple said.