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Jeff Kolpack, Published November 17 2013

Bison men's basketball preps for tough Southern Mississippi team

FARGO – The old dog known as the Bison Sports Arena still has some bite left in it, at least in terms of men’s basketball opponents coming to Fargo. Tonight, North Dakota State will host perhaps one of the most talented foes in its short Division I history.

Southern Mississippi of Conference USA, fresh off a 27-win season and a berth in the quarterfinals of the N.I.T. last season, will match its full-court, high-octane style against a Bison team looking for a signature early season win.

“They’re as good as anybody we’ve played in the BSA,” said NDSU head coach Saul Phillips. “Certainly, they are a high-water mark in terms of the talent level coming to the BSA.”

That includes Kansas State, which defeated the Bison 83-81 in 2006. Phillips said that Wildcats team was still in flux with a first-year head coach in Bob Huggins.

The Golden Eagles were considered a bubble team last year in making the NCAA tournament. They lost their leading scorer and rebounder, but return plenty of experience led by guards Neil Watson and Jerrold Brooks and forwards Daveon Boardingham and Michael Craig. All four played at least 27 minutes in a season-opening win at DePaul.

The Bison, meanwhile, stumbled offensively in their opener, losing 78-65 at Saint Mary’s College (Calif.). While the Gaels played a similar style to NDSU, Southern Mississippi represents a clash in what the Bison hope to do tonight.

NDSU defenders better not be in the habit of blinking twice.

“They pressure you very, very hard,” Phillips said. “They focus on turnovers, run and crash the glass. They’re very athletic, extremely athletic, on the high end of athleticism in Division I and they can make you make some mistakes you’re not used to making.”

It was considered a bonus getting the Eagles to come to Fargo, although the Bison will have to pay for it in terms of a 2-for-1 deal. NDSU will travel to Southern Mississippi for two games in other years, but Phillips said the membership flux of the Summit League with Oakland University and Missouri-Kansas City leaving left the Bison in desperate need for games.

“The fact of the matter is not a lot of people want to play them either,” he said. “We are two teams in need of a game. We were scrambling for anything we could get.”

NDSU spent most of Friday traveling from Moraga, Calif., via San Francisco and Denver. It won’t be the last time the players will need to put traveling grind on the back burner and get ready for a marquee matchup in a matter of days.

The Bison play at Western Michigan on Wednesday and at North Dakota on Sunday. There’s a solo trip to Bryant College (R.I.) before the swing to Notre Dame and Ohio State. Every Summit League road trip requires a short memory.

“It’s almost like an NBA schedule, you better shake it off in a hurry,” Phillips said.

But there’s a benefit to that mentality, too, he said.

“We need to keep the big picture in mind a little bit in terms of what we’re preparing for and what we get out of this,” he said. “The goal ultimately is to win this league and if playing this schedule gives us more losses than last year, that’s fine. But we’re not going to concede anything; we think we can win some of these games.”

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

Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found

at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia