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Jeff Kolpack, Published February 14 2013

Bison offense struggles in loss to Western Illinois

FARGO – That was a basketball at the Bison Sports Arena, not a rugby ball, although it could have just as well been a rugby ball. When North Dakota State and Western Illinois get together, hard-nosed play is not an option.

It’s a requirement, and on Thursday night, the only thing missing was a scrum at midcourt. It was halfcourt basketball all night, with a fast-break hoop rarer than an eclipse. That was expected.

But maybe not to this degree – the 49-36 loss was NDSU’s lowest scoring output in the 42-year history of the Bison Sports Arena and that record wasn’t even close.

The previous low was 48 against Michigan Tech in 2003-04.

“It doesn’t surprise me at all. That’s not a lot of points,” said Bison forward TrayVonn Wright. “It doesn’t feel good, I can tell you that.”

The Bison shot just 28 percent from the field, making 1 of 13 3-point field goals. It derailed NDSU’s regular-season title hopes falling a game and a half behind first place WIU with two to play.

“Very disappointed any time you’re playing a game to put you in first place this late in the year,” said NDSU head coach Saul Phillips. “It’s a gut punch when you lose. I don’t fault our kids’ effort, but certainly our execution on the offensive end left something to be desired and a lot of that has to do with Western Illinois.”

It was NDSU’s sixth straight loss to the Leathernecks, who got three late 3-point field goals to open up a close game. A key shot was a trey by Adam Link with 4:39 remaining that made it 35-29.

On this night, a six-point advantage was big.

“We’re comfortable in these kinds of games,” said WIU head coach Jim Molinari, a former Minnesota assistant. “I remember with (former Gophers coach) Dan Monson it was 0-0 at the first timeout and he panicked. I said, ‘Isn’t this great? I love this.’”

It was NDSU that had the defensive love the last six minutes of the first half. Trailing 17-12 and finding any kind of offensive flow miserable, a 10-0 blitz to close the half brought the BSA alive.

Lawrence Alexander’s running one-handed dunk off a turnover made it 22-17 at the break.

Not to be outdone, the Leathernecks scored 11 straight points early in the second half. It was similar to the slow first-half start for the Bison, who got a free throw from Kory Brown to start the final 20 minutes and didn’t score again until Mike Felt’s field goal with 10:50 left.

Still, the Bison were still within a shot or two of re-taking the lead. It never came.

“Tell me if you’ve seen a better defensive mid-major out there,” Phillips said. “If you have, it’s us.”

NDSU got 10 points each from Wright and Alexander, who after carrying the Bison last weekend was 2 of 15 from the field.

“It’s the way they pressure the ball and still pack it in,” Wright said. “They’re really long and they cause problems for everybody, not just us. And the open shots we had we just didn’t knock down.”

WIU (19-5, 11-2 Summit): Houpt 2-6 0-0 5, Link 5-11 3-6 14, Parks 4-9 5-8 13, Clark 3-8 2-4 10, Roberts-Burnett 2-3 0-0 4, Foster 0-0 0-0 0, McAvoy 1-1 0-0 3, Ochereobia 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 17-38 10-18 49.

NDSU (19-7, 10-4 Summit): VandenBergh 0-0 0-0 0, Wright 5-13 0-0 10, Bjorklund 2-5 0-2 4, Alexander 2-15 6-8 10, Brown 2-6 3-5 7, Felt 2-6 0-0 5, Kading 0-1 0-0 0, Zastrow 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 13-46 9-15 36.

Halftime: NDSU 22, WIU 17. Total fouls: WIU 16, NDSU 16. Fouled out: none. Rebounds: WIU 35 (Park 15); NDSU 28 (Wright 8). 3-point goals: WIU 5-13 (Houpt 1-4, Clark 2-7, Link 1-1, McAvoy 1-1); NDSU 1-13 (Wright 0-6, Alexander 0-3, Felt 1-4). Assists: WIU 8 (Clark 5); NDSU 6 (Alexander 3). Turnovers: WIU 11 (Link, Clark 3); NDSU 7 (VandenBergh, Brown 2). A-3,218.

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