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Kevin Schnepf, Published February 14 2013

Schnepf: Bison could have used Braun in loss

Fargo - Still wearing a boot on his right foot to protect a broken bone, Taylor Braun managed to throw up a couple of 3-pointers in pregame warmups Thursday. He made one of them.

That’s just as many as the entire Bison team made in the game that followed – a disappointing 49-36 loss to Western Illinois. Disappointing because it ends all hope for a Summit League championship. Disappointing because during the previous seven games without Braun, the Bison courageously won four games.

Bottom line: Playing without Braun caught up to the Bison on a night when NDSU has its lowest-scoring output in Bison Sports Arena history.

“It’s amazing what they have done without their leading scorer,” said Western Illinois head coach Jim Molinari. “That has a lot to do with some of their scoring troubles.”

“I appreciate those comments,” said Bison head coach Saul Phillips. “I’m just really focused on how quick we can get Taylor back.”

And when will that be?

Doctors are waiting to see what X-rays show a week from next Monday. If they think the bone on the bottom and outside of his right foot is healed up enough, he could get cleared to play the next night in NDSU’s last home game against Utah Valley.

“My foot feels great,” said Braun, who cracked the bone in a Jan. 12 home game against Oakland. “I have no pain at all. But it can be 80 percent healed right now and feel great, but maybe with a slight movement, I could recrack it.”

Phillips said when he does get Braun back, he is going to throw him to the wolves. Braun will quickly find out how much the cardio workouts on a stairmaster and the pool workouts have kept him in basketball shape.

“We have to get him ready to play in that conference tournament, as quick as we can,” Phillips said.

Ah yes, the tournament – the one where three wins gets you into the Big Dance. But ever since the Bison pulled that trick in 2009, they have been one-and-done in the last three tournaments.

As gutty as the Bison have played without Braun, they should win Saturday night against cellar-dweller IUPUI. By the time they play their last Summit game on March 2 at Nebraska-Omaha, the Bison should have Braun back.

Winning those final two games will guarantee the Bison a No. 3 seed for the Summit tournament. But it doesn’t guarantee a win in the first round, which could be against dangerous sub-500 teams like South Dakota or IPFW.

If the Bison do break their first-round jinx, they could face the very same Western Illinois team in the semifinals.

“I don’t know if I would want to play them again,” Molinari said.

“I would love to play them with Taylor,” Phillips said.

The three things the Bison miss with Braun sidelined were very noticeable Thursday night.

Knowing they don’t have to worry about Braun’s driving ability and outside shooting, teams have been double-teaming post Marshall Bjorklund. He was limited to five shots and four points Thursday night.

Braun is very good at pushing the ball up the court in transition. The Bison were limited to two fast-break buckets.

“We’ve slowed almost to a walk in our offensive tempo,” Phillips said. “We are one of the slowest teams in America right now.”

Braun is also a good go-to guy, when the Bison need a bucket with the shot-clock winding down. Against Western Illinois’ rugged defense, those kind of shots were hard to come by.

“At 6-foot-7, Taylor can pull up and shoot over someone,” said Phillips, who said Braun has refused to get a haircut until he plays again. “He’s sick of his hair being long, which is another reason he wants to get back. He’s proclaiming himself as the world’s fastest healer.”

The biblical figure Samson may have lost strength cutting his hair. But the Bison will undoubtedly get stronger when Braun cuts his.

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

at www.areavoices.com