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Jeff Kolpack, Published December 10 2013

Notre Dame, Ohio State give Bison men's basketball team upset opportunities

FARGO – North Dakota State has two chances this week to satisfy one of its men’s basketball goals.

“Beating a high-major (team) is definitely something on their list,” said Bison head coach Saul Phillips. “It is in their locker room. … That one win, like football this year can point to Kansas State, our guys see that.”

The Bison play at Notre Dame at 6 tonight, the second of four games in the BlackRock Gotham Classic. NDSU (6-3) is also slated to play at No. 3-ranked Ohio State at 7:15 p.m. Saturday.

Notre Dame is a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference, while the Buckeyes are a perennial Big Ten Conference power.

“We haven’t had a stretch of schedule like this in school history,” said Phillips, whose team played at No. 1-ranked Indiana last season. “The challenge is you can play pretty good basketball and end up 0-2.”

Phillips said playing at No. 1-ranked Indiana (also a Big Ten member) last season should help his team out over the next two games. That experience, coupled with his team’s veteran nature. The players on the NDSU roster have combined to play in 741 games, including 400 starts, over the past four seasons.

Phillips does not expect any stage fright.

“You expect the ‘wow’ factor to be gone,” Phillips said. “I think this group is wired that they can compete with anybody. … You draw on the experience that you have, and we have had some pretty neat ones.”

The Bison have won their past four games, playing in three different times zones. NDSU earned a 66-62 victory at Bryant University (R.I.) last Saturday. That was NDSU’s first game of the BlackRock Gotham Classic.

Bison junior point guard Lawrence Alexander is averaging 31.7 minutes per game to lead the team. His play will be important in both games against the Irish and Buckeyes.

“When we’ve been really good here, we’ve had very good point guard play,” said Phillips. “LA has established himself. He knows how to run a team.”

Notre Dame (7-2) is averaging 82.8 points per game through nine games. Senior guard Jerian Grant leads the team with 19.8 points per game, shooting 55 percent from the field. Ohio State (8-0) is holding opponents to 54.5 points per game.

“Ohio State is the best defensive team in America. Period,” Phillips said. “And Notre Dame is one of the best offensive teams I’ve seen.”

Senior guard Aaron Craft is a catalyst for the Ohio State defense. The 6-foot-2 Craft is averaging 2.6 steals per game.

“You’ve got one of the best point guards in America with Aaron Craft,” Phillips added. “He can just smother you defensively.”

The Notre Dame game is slated to be televised on ESPNU, while the Ohio State game can be seen on the Big Ten Network.

Phillips expects his team to savor the opportunity to play teams from big-time leagues.

“These are games you can tell your grandkids about,” he said. “It’s something you can hold on for your entire life.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Eric Peterson at (701) 241-5513.

Peterson’s blog can be found at peterson.areavoices.com