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Jonathon Braden / Special to The Forum, Published March 02 2013

Bison roll Nebraska-Omaha behind Braun's 22 points

OMAHA, Neb. – Early during North Dakota State’s victory, Taylor Braun stared down his opponent, darted quickly to his right and swished a jumper, showing everyone that his right foot was just fine.

It had been more than six weeks since his teammates had seen a healthy and active Braun cut freely in a game. But three full days of practice last week had given the junior the confidence he needed to return to regular form Saturday night against Nebraska-Omaha.

Behind Braun’s game-high 22 points, the Bison rolled over the Mavericks 84-57, leading the entire game and dominating inside the paint, where they outscored Nebraska-Omaha 40-22.

Overall, the Bison shot almost 58 percent from the field compared to the Mavericks’ 33 percent.

And much of the Bison’s success had to do with a healthy and active No. 24.

With the win, North Dakota State secured the No. 3 seed in this weekend’s Summit League tournament, where a bid to the NCAA tournament awaits.

“Enjoyed having Taylor Braun back,” coach Saul Phillips said. “We’ve had him back for a week now, but this felt like the first time that we were whole as a group.”

In mid-January, Braun broke a bone in his right foot and missed the next 10 games and six weeks of practice. His foot also was placed in a walking boot.

Monday, the walking boot was removed, and Tuesday, he saw his first game action since the injury: an 0-for-4 effort.

Braun, putting pressure on his foot for the first time in weeks, said he felt soreness all this week from making regular basketball moves, such as moving side-to-side and cutting quickly. But as each practice passed, the broken bone in his right foot became more of a memory than a nuisance. He said Saturday was the best he’s felt without the boot.

“I’m very happy with the progress I’ve made as far as mobility,” Braun said.

He had reasons to smile after Saturday’s game.

Braun played a team-high 29 minutes and made 8 of his 15 shots, including a 3-pointer. The junior drew double teams, turned a teammate’s air ball into a layup and led a few fast breaks.

Braun even entered the North Dakota State record books. With 5:17 left in the first half, he scored his 1,000th point as a Bison. He had 991 points going into Saturday.

His healthy play also let his teammates return to their old ways. TrayVonn Wright could eye open looks, going 2-for-6 on 3-pointers and finishing with 15 points.

And with Wright and Braun hanging by the perimeter, Marshall Bjorklund pounded the ball, two and three feet away from the basket and made 8 of his 9 shots.

Bjorklund finished with 18 points in 20 minutes.

“Marshall had room to operate because Taylor was out there,” Phillips said.

Bjorklund said it all felt a little familiar. “We’re kind of gelling back together like we were earlier in the season,” he said.

On defense, the Bison shooed Nebraska-Omaha away from the paint and made them settle for jump shots much of the game.

“Their physicality really showed up today,” Nebraska-Omaha coach Derrin Hansen said.

With a healthy Braun, North Dakota State enters the conference tournament with a 22-8 record. Five of those losses came without Braun.

“We waited so long to get back to a whole group,” Phillips said, “but now we want keep that together for as long as we can go.”

N. DAKOTA ST. (22-8): Wright 6-11 1-2 15, Bjorklund 8-9 2-4 18, Alexander 1-1 5-6 7, Brown 1-1 2-2 4, Braun 8-15 5-6 22, Newell 0-1 0-0 0, Felt 0-2 0-0 0, Zastrow 1-3 0-0 3, Mauch 1-2 2-2 5, VandenBergh 1-1 0-0 3, Kading 2-3 0-1 5, Aaberg 1-3 0-0 2. Totals 30-52 17-23 84.

NEBRASKA-OMAHA (11-20): Welhouse 1-5 2-2 5, Karhoff 2-6 1-1 5, Phillips 3-7 0-0 6, Carter 3-6 1-2 8, Simmons 3-10 2-2 9, Coleman 1-5 1-2 3, Steffensmeier 0-1 1-2 1, Tyus 5-9 0-0 10, Egli 1-7 2-2 4, Krych 1-6 2-3 4, Hagerbaumer 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 21-63 12-16 57.

Halftime: N. Dakota St. 46-26. 3-Point Goals: N. Dakota St. 7-17 (Wright 2-6, VandenBergh 1-1, Kading 1-1, Zastrow 1-2, Mauch 1-2, Braun 1-3, Felt 0-1, Newell 0-1), Nebraska-Omaha 3-17 (Carter 1-2, Simmons 1-3, Welhouse 1-4, Steffensmeier 0-1, Phillips 0-1, Coleman 0-1, Egli 0-5). Fouled Out: Karhoff. Rebounds: N. Dakota St. 42 (Aaberg 8), Nebraska-Omaha 25 (Hagerbaumer, Tyus 4). Assists: N. Dakota St. 14 (Alexander, Bjorklund, Braun 3), Nebraska-Omaha 8 (Simmons 3). Total Fouls: N. Dakota St. 17, Nebraska-Omaha 17. Technical: Nebraska-Omaha Bench. A: 1,426.