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Kevin Schnepf, Published March 22 2009

Special season: North Dakota State men's basketball team's ability to bounce back from early 3-OT loss said a lot

Perhaps Danny Kaspar knew more than most of us back on Dec. 12.

The Stephen F. Austin basketball coach was walking down a hallway of Drake University’s Knapp Center, about a half-hour after his team survived for a triple-overtime win against North Dakota State.

That’s when Kaspar approached NDSU’s Ben Woodside, slumped in a folding chair – exhausted from his incredible 60-point performance.

“We’ll see you in the NCAA tournament,” Kaspar told Woodside.

Sure enough.

On Friday morning, Kaspar’s team was in Miami playing Syracuse in an NCAA tournament game. At the same time, Woodside and NDSU were in Minneapolis playing defending national champion Kansas.

I mention this hallway meeting only because of what the Bison accomplished the next day in the Knapp Center. Fatigued and dejected from the triple-overtime loss, the Bison rolled to a 98-77 win over a talented Georgia Southern team.

It was big statement – as if the Bison were more than ready to do something special this season. They would lose only three more regular-season games – one a 61-57 setback at Southern Cal, a team playing today in the Metrodome in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Then came a three-week whirlwind of special accomplishments.

The Bison clinched The Summit League regular-season championship in their last regular-season game – becoming the first conference team since 2005 to claim a win at Oral Roberts University.

One week later, they played in their first Summit League tournament only 3½ hours away in Sioux Falls, S.D. – where nearly 2,000 Bison fans celebrated the dramatic championship win over Oakland (Mich.) University. Five days later, they learned they would be playing in their first NCAA tournament only 3½ hours away in Minneapolis – where an estimated 10,000 Bison fans watched them play Kansas.

“It was as if the stars were aligned for them,” said Oakland coach Greg Kampe, who said he would be cheering for the Bison to knock off Kansas.

It appeared the entire galaxy was lining up for the Bison with less than 12 minutes left of Friday’s game. That’s when Woodside exploded between two defenders on a drive that created a three-point play to cut the Jayhawks lead to 56-53.

“Wow,” CBS-TV sportscaster Gus Johnson announced to the national television audience that could hear the Bison fans erupt. “I tell you what, folks. This kid is a baller.”

With just over nine minutes left, another Woodside drive cut the Jayhawks lead to 58-55.

“He’s beating them at will,” said CBS announcer Len Elmore.

“Incredible,” Johnson announced, as the CBS scoreboard showed Stephen F. Austin losing to Syracuse 59-44.

Bob Huggins, whose West Virginia team was up next in the Metrodome against Dayton, was watching with interest from the sidelines. It was Huggins’ Kansas State team that survived an 83-81 scare against these same Bison two seasons ago in Fargo.

Woodside, who ended up with 37 points, raised his stock with NBA scouts. And even though the Bison could get no closer than three points before falling 84-74, they raised their stock as a Division I program.

There were some of us in press row who wondered how Kansas, relying on the two-man show of Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich, won the Big 12 Conference regular-season title. But it didn’t take long for most of us to realize that this Bison team was good – Division I good.

Woodside may have been exhausted that Dec. 12 night sitting in the hallway, after playing in all but four minutes of the 55-minute triple overtime. But on Friday sitting in the bright lights, after playing the entire 40 minutes, he wasn’t winded at all.

“This is the N-C-double A tournament,” Woodside said.

Indeed it was.

Readers can reach Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549 or kschnepf@forumcomm.com. Schnepf’s NDSU media blog can be found

at www.areavoices.com