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Jeff Kolpack, Published November 18 2013

Southern Miss hangs on for narrow victory over North Dakota State

FARGO – North Dakota State narrowly missed taking down Kansas State several years ago at a frenzied Bison Sports Arena. It was the same scene again Monday night against another top-level Division I men’s basketball team.

Southern Mississippi held on for a 70-69 victory in an atmosphere akin to a Fargodome playoff football game.

Or a game in Conference USA, the Golden Eagles’ league.

“I don’t know too many places that are better,” said Southern Miss head coach Donnie Tyndall. “Memphis is 20,000 and that’s a different stratosphere, but the fans had the energy and the electricity. I don’t know of too many better than what we saw tonight.”

The 3,724 fans saw glimpses of high-major Division I basketball, much less mid-major.

But in the end, a loss still hurt the Bison like any other loss.

“It’s the worst feeling because you know you can win,” said NDSU forward TrayVonn Wright, who led the Bison with 21 points and 12 rebounds. “It would be different if we were down 20 and getting killed.”

NDSU head coach Saul Phillips said he wasn’t “cool” with losing, either. He also saw some things in his team that he said were inspiring to him – like fighting back after an inept last seven minutes of the first half that put them in a 39-28 halftime hole.

“As we move forward, I’m putting my chips on us,” Phillips said. “At some point, we are going to be all you can handle.”

Neil Watson’s 3-point field goal with 1 minute, 23 seconds remaining that made it 70-66 held up as the game winner. It was his only bucket on a night when field goals were not easy to come by.

Both teams enjoyed playing defense.

“That’s what you hope your senior guards do,” Tyndall said. “On that possession, we had good ball movement. You hope those guys make the experienced, tough plays.”

It wasn’t over until NDSU had to go the length of the court in 1.8 seconds, but a pass to half court didn’t get any farther than that.

“Games like this come down to one team making one more plays than the opposition,” Tyndall said.

The Bison tied it at 44, at 49 and later at 63-63 on Taylor Braun’s 3-pointer from the corner with 4:35 remaining.

But the Bison never did take a lead.

“We were on that verge all day,” said Phillips, saying actually taking a lead wasn’t critical. “I think storming back, I don’t think it mattered what the scoreboard said.”

Mike Felt had three free throws with the Bison down 65-63, but he made two. Still tied, Wright’s jumper rimmed out with 3 minutes remaining.

After Watson’s trey, Marshall Bjorklund’s free throw made it 70-67 and the Bison had new life after forcing an Eagles turnover with 18 seconds left.

Wright made two free throws, although he narrowly missed a chance at a three-point play when he was fouled on his shot.

But NDSU took five seconds to foul Chip Armelin, who missed both free throws at 2.5 seconds.

“Great college basketball game,” Phillips said. “I think both teams are going to make a lot of noise this season.”

USM (3-0): Boardingham 3-5 2-4 8, Brown 6-8 3-3 18, Houston 0-0 0-0 0, Brooks 5-12 0-0 11, Craig 4-9 0-2 8, Bingaya 1-2 0-1 2, Watson 1-5 0-0 3, Armelin 0-3 0-2 0, Carey 0-0 5-6 5, Eason 6-6 3-4 15, Ifeanyichukwu 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 26-50 13-22 70

NDSU (1-2): Wright 7-15 6-6 21, Bjorklund 3-5 3-5 9, Alexander 2-5 0-0 6, Brown 1-3 3-3 5, Braun 4-8 1-3 11, Felt 4-9 3-5 15, Kading 0-0 0-0 0, Aaberg 0-0 2-2 2. Totals: 21-45 18-24 70.

Halftime: USM 39, NDSU 28. Total fouls: USM 22, NDSU 20. Fouled out: Craig. Rebounds: USM 28 (Craig 10); NDSU 23 (Wright 12). 3-point goals: USM 5-10 (Brown 3-4, Brooks 1-4, Watson 1-2); NDSU 9-21 (Wright 1-3, Alexander 2-4, Braun 2-5, Felt 4-9). Assists: USM 11 (Brooks 5); NDSU 17 (Braun 11). Turnovers: USM 15 (Craig 6); NDSU 17 (Alexander 5). A-3,724.

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

Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found

at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia