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Tom Mix, Published December 28 2012

Jackrabbits arrive in Fargo on a roll

FARGO – The Summit League men’s basketball schedule is wrapping up 2012 with a bang.

North Dakota State hosts Interstate 29 rival South Dakota State at 7 p.m. today at the Bison Sports Arena.

Since NDSU and SDSU made the transition to Division I, both the Bison and Jackrabbits have earned berths into the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

Though their paths to becoming quality mid-major programs are similar, don’t count on NDSU and SDSU sharing an early rendition of the New Year’s tune “Auld Lang Syne” following tonight’s game.

The Jackrabbits (10-4, 1-0 Summit) took both games of the series last season, including a 91-88 overtime victory in Fargo. That win snapped a 10-game skid to the Bison.

“A loss stings no matter what, but especially in overtime at home and then you had not lost to them in I don’t know how long,” NDSU junior forward TrayVonn Wright said. “We are looking to start the streak back up.”

NDSU (10-3, 1-0) is 5-0 at the BSA this season, but will play the Jackrabbits in front of a crowd that is projected to be considerably smaller than last season’s contest due to students being on semester break.

“It is always a challenge,” NDSU head coach Saul Phillips said of playing SDSU. “They are coming off a Top 25 win. They are pretty good, and I think we are pretty good. It is fun. That’s all it is. It’s just a lot of fun. I told the guys that a lot of people are going to tell you how big of a moment this is, but don’t forget this is a lot of fun too.”

“You try not to put one game on a pedestal, but it is a home league game against a very good team, so it is a big deal.”

On the court NDSU’s paramount objective will be stopping SDSU’s standout senior 6-foot-4 guard Nate Wolters.

Wolters is averaging 20 points per game for the Jackrabbits and is coming off a game in which he scored 28 points and dished out seven assists in SDSU’s 70-65 win over the No. 16-ranked New Mexico on Dec. 22. The win over the Lobos was SDSU’s first-ever win over a ranked Division I opponent.

“Wolters is a top-25 player in college basketball,” Phillips said. “He is so involved with everything they do. He is an excellent player, and I have a lot of respect for him. I wouldn’t be surprised if he is playing in the NBA next year.”

Wolters, a former prep standout at St. Cloud Tech, is ranked the 87th best NBA prospect by ESPN’s Chad Ford.

Besides Wolters, the Jackrabbits also feature junior forward Jordan Dykstra, who averages 12.9 ppg and 6.9 rebounds per game. Senior forward Tony Fiegen also averages double figures (10.1 ppg) for SDSU.

Phillips said the focus must not be limited to just stopping Wolters, but also disrupting his ability to get his teammates involved.

Limiting SDSU’s 3-point shooting will also be a key. The Jackrabbits are shooting 36 percent from beyond the arc.

“You got to limit their 3-point shooting,” Phillips said. “In that New Mexico game they got a lot of people involved. You have to be able to contest. That is an area we have taken a big jump in, but this is by far our sternest test in defending the 3-pointer outside of Indiana. They have a lot weapons.”

SDSU shot 48 percent (24-for-50) from the field against the Lobos.

“They are definitely going to be quite confident after that win, but it we get off to a quick start and lock down defensively right away that will set the tone for the entire night,” NDSU junior Marshall Bjorklund said. “We are not happy with how the games went against them last year, and we would like to start another winning streak against them.”


Readers can reach Forum reporter Tom Mix at (701) 241-5562