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Jeff Kolpack, Published December 20 2012

Kolpack: Bison men's basketball team left to wait its turn

Fargo - The North Dakota State men’s basketball players were on a bus from Washington, D.C., to Baltimore last Friday night when they rigged a radio system that would make an engineering graduate student envious. Without access to ESPN2 to watch the NDSU and Georgia Southern semifinal football game, it was the next best thing.

Somebody on the bus called KFGO-AM and asked to be placed on hold, with the play-by-play of the game being the “hold music.” Somebody else then took a rubber band and wrapped the phone next to a speaker on the bus so everybody could hear it.

“Yeah, they’re into it,” said head coach Saul Phillips.

Once they reached their hotel, on the eve of playing at Towson State (Md.), the players gathered around a TV to watch the second half. It was stressful, and when quarterback Brock Jensen scored the go-ahead touchdown, Phillips was worried about a noise complaint.

“It reminds me of last year,” said guard Lawrence Alexander. “The football team is really good, and we just have to wait our turn.”

Like the football team, the basketball team is winning at an impressive clip heading into its final pre-Summit League game at home tonight against Morehead State (Ky.). All the attention may be on Frisco, Texas, these days, but the Bison men have quietly gone about their business. They have a 9-3 record, are No. 99 out of 347 teams in the RPI and own a top 25 ranking in the mid-major poll.

And that’s just fine with Phillips.

“If our team is playing for attention, they have the wrong idea,” he said. “We’re playing to win. Our football team is going to a national championship, and that’s historic in itself. If you’re so wrapped up in yourself that you can’t get over that, you’re playing for the wrong reason.”

The reason for NDSU’s solid start is much like the reason the football team is headed to Frisco: defense. So far, and statistics back this up, it’s ahead of any team Phillips has coached in his six years at NDSU and that includes the 2008 NCAA tournament team.

“We can make a couple improvements on offense,” Alexander said, “but defense leads to offense, and that’s why we’re off to good start.”

The Bison are surrendering 57.8 points per game, and they’ll need that statistic against Morehead, which plays at a high tempo. NDSU beat the Eagles two weeks ago 69-57, a game that saw the Bison grab a monstrous lead and then hold on for dear life.

“The last eight minutes they won conclusively,” Phillips said. “You watch the tape and it looks like two different games.”

After tonight, it’s all about the Summit League with the exception of a couple of February non-conference games. Phillips said he expects a football-like approach against Morehead: competitive.

“This team fights every day in practice,” he said. “There’s just something about this team. They really, really want to win everything they do.”

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546. Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found

at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia