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Jeff Kolpack, Published February 25 2013

Bison's Braun cleared to play

FARGO – It’s been a long month for the North Dakota State men’s basketball team without Taylor Braun. At least the Bison got some good news on Monday morning.

The team’s leading scorer was cleared to practice Monday night and his status for tonight’s home game against Utah Valley University will be determined today.

He’ll play, “but it’s a matter of how sore he gets or how tired he gets,” said Bison head coach Saul Philips.

Braun broke a bone in his foot in mid-January against Oakland University (Mich.) at the Bison Sports Arena. The win over the Grizzlies improved NDSU’s record to 15-3.

The Bison were cooking at the time, with the highest RPI power ranking in school history and a No. 11 ranking in the top 25 mid-major poll. But NDSU has gone 5-5 since with players who have tried to make up for Braun’s absence by doing more than they’re capable of, Phillips said.

Without him, center Marshall Bjorklund was consistently double teamed. Without him, forward TrayVonn Wright tried to score more. Without him, defensive stopper Kory Brown tried to drive more to the basket.

“The biggest thing is it brings everybody back to a more natural role,” Phillips said.

Braun had a plate inserted on the broken bone to hold the fracture together, said Scott Woken, NDSU’s director of sports medicine. He said there’s always a risk for a player coming back from any injury, but he also said the coaches aren’t looking for Braun to play 40 minutes right away, either.

“It’s practice versus a game,” Woken said. “The intensity level goes up, the speed goes up, and so does your adrenalin. Then you worry about conditioning because it’s hard to condition for any sport other than doing that sport.”

Woken said Braun did workouts in a pool and upper body weight training while he was sidelined.

“But that doesn’t replicate basketball,” he said.

The 6-foot-7 Braun – a junior and team leader in his fourth year in the program – was averaging 15.2 points and 5 rebounds when he was injured. Also at the time, Bjorklund was averaging 13 points and leading the country in field goal accuracy, making almost 70 percent of his shots.

He averaged 8.3 points with Braun out of the lineup.

“Marshall’s production went down,” Phillips said. “Every time he touched the ball down there it got awfully crowded.”

Braun’s absence also came during NDSU’’s toughest stretch of games, with road tests at Summit League leaders South Dakota State, Western Illinois and Oakland University and the ESPN BracketBuster game at the University of Akron (Ohio).

“The beef of our conference schedule,” Phillips said. “Last night, I was looking at the Omaha tape when he was in there and he brings us so much.”

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546.

Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found

at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia