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Jeff Kolpack, Published December 29 2012

Alexander, Bison get best of Jackrabbits

FARGO – There’s still some burn left in the old Bison Sports Arena barn after all. With a fan attack that came alive for the first time this season, North Dakota State put together its most impressive men’s basketball win of the season.

It came down to a battle of point guards in the final minute. South Dakota State’s Nate Wolters was the point of emphasis all night with 26 points, but NDSU’s Lawrence Alexander made two plays that won the game. His driving layup with 48 seconds left held up as the game winner in a 65-62 Bison victory before a season-high 5,064 fans.

“I bought a T-shirt in California in October that says, ‘I love L.A.,’” said NDSU head coach Saul Phillips, in reference Alexander’s initials instead of Los Angeles. “I’m wearing it all day tomorrow.

“Wolters gets a lot of credit and he should. He’s unbelievable. Terrific. As good as it gets in this league. But L.A. is pretty good too.”

After Alexander’s shot, Wolters missed on the other end eight seconds later, giving the final stretch advantage to NDSU.

“Coming down the stretch, I told myself someone had to come alive,” Alexander said. “I saw some openings and took it to the basket.”

Alexander made 1 of 2 free throws, but the lead held up when Wolters missed a similar shot with 9 seconds left.

“They made plays down the stretch and we didn’t,” Wolters said. “I missed a couple shots I normally make, so it was frustrating.”

Freshman Kory Brown, who was fouled on the rebound, hit 1 of 2 free throws with 7 seconds left. Jordan Dykstra’s 3-point attempt from just inside halfcourt bounced off the rim at the buzzer.

NDSU overcame uncharacteristic poor free-throw shooting, 10 of 21, to improve to 2-0 in the Summit League and 11-3 overall. Rivalry games don’t get much better with a riveting final minute and each team committing just eight turnovers. NDSU had no turnovers in the second half.

Center Marshall Bjorklund led NDSU with 20 points. Alexander had 18 points and six assists.

It was a promising start for the Bison, who rode the inside play of Bjorklund to take a 19-6 lead. NDSU hit eight of its first 11 shots before the Jackrabbits stiffened on defense.

“We’re playing on the road. It’s their biggest game of the year. They have a lot of energy and we knew that,” said SDSU head coach Scott Nagy. “We knew they would throw it at us, and they did. That goes with the territory in these kinds of games.”

But as Nagy noted, the Jacks took NDSU’s best shot and then got back in the game.

Paying more attention to Bjorklund with helpside defense, SDSU whittled the Bison advantage to just 29-27 at halftime. Of note: leading scorer Taylor Braun was just 0 of 2 from the field.

That didn’t last. His 3-pointer to open the second half and another tough jumper helped the Bison maintain a small lead in the first five minutes of the second half.

But the Jacks finally gained their first lead of the game, 50-49, on a Wolters’ running jumper with 9:08 remaining. It was a tight race to the finish with SDSU’s biggest lead at 56-52 with just under five minutes left.

“We knew it was going to be a tough game, a battle, and up here is a tough place to play,” Wolters said.

SDSU (10-5 overall, 1-1 Summit): Fiegen 6-8 2-4 14, Dykstra 3-9 0-0 7, Wolters 10-21 4-4 26, Carlson 5-7 1-2 12, White 0-2 0-0 0, Prince 0-3 0-0 0, Heemstra 1-4 1-1 3. Totals: 25-54 8-11 62.

NDSU (11-3, 2-0): Wright 3-10 0-0 9, Bjorklund 8-8 4-9 20, Alexander 6-10 5-6 18, Brown 0-2 1-3 1, Braun 4-6 0-3 11, Felt 2-6 0-0 6, Kading 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 23-43 10-21 65.

Halftime: NDSU 29, SDSU 27. Total fouls: SDSU 21, NDSU 15. Rebounds: SDSU 31 (Dykstra 9); NDSU 26 (Wright 9). 3-point goals: SDSU 4-14 (Wolters 2-5, Carlson 1-2, White 0-2, Prince 0-1, Dykstra 1-4); NDSU 9-23 (Wright 3-8, Alexander 1-4, Braun 3-4, Felt 2-6, Kading 0-1). Assists: SDSU 9 (Wolters 3); NDSU 11 (Alexander 6). Turnovers: SDSU 8 (three with 2); NDSU 8 (three with 2). A-5,064.

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