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Jeff Kolpack, Published March 20 2009

Rave reviews for Bison

Minneapolis – As loud as the Metrodome was Friday afternoon, the silence in the North Dakota State locker room in the moments after losing to Kansas was deafening.

Such is the reaction of a near-miss in the first round of the NCAA basketball tournament. All of it – the four fifth-year seniors, the majesty of the “Big Dance” and Ben Woodside’s 37 points in defeat – came to a sudden halt.

Never was that more evident than when senior forward Brett Winkelman left a college basketball court for the last time.

He paused, looked around at the announced crowd of 15,794 and took a good look for the memory book.

“I just wanted to take it all in because that was the last moment in this jersey,” he said. “I waved goodbye. I’m never going to forget that.”

The people who follow college basketball will not soon forget NDSU. The Bison lost 84-74, but they didn’t go down without a love fest of compliments.

“That whole team, fans, seems class to me,” said Kansas head coach Bill Self. “From an objective perspective, although I didn’t feel like it during the game, that was a pretty cool setting today.”

Self stopped Woodside after the teams shook hands for an extended conversation. Everybody took their turn lauding the team that made the tournament in its first year of Division I eligibility. They were the little engine that couldn’t quite get up the hill against a defending national champion.

North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven stopped by the locker room. Those close to the players did their best to put on a brave face.

“It hurts,” said NDSU athletic director Gene Taylor. “Those guys wanted to win as much as anybody, and they felt they could. They’re hurting right now, but they have nothing to do but hold their heads high.”

Jeff Kolpack can be heard on the Saturday Morning Sports Show, 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