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Jason Haddix / Special to The Forum, Published January 09 2014

Bison drop men's basketball conference game to IPFW

FORT WAYNE, Ind. – The North Dakota State men’s basketball team entered Thursday’s game having played the 32nd-toughest schedule out of the 349 Division I programs.

The gauntlet they navigated will get the Bison ready for the NCAA tournament, but it is how they play during the Summit League action that will determine if they get to use what they have learned.

NDSU got off on the wrong foot with an 82-71 loss to Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne at the Gates Sports Center.

“Who is going undefeated in the Summit League?” NDSU coach Saul Phillips said. “We got some good things going. It is tough to lose. It stinks to lose. We have not lost lately, and that is why this hurts probably a little more.”

IPFW took command with an early 17-2 run that began 4½ minutes into the game with the score tied at eight.

“We were fighting uphill all night long,” Phillips said. “They scored 20 points from the free-throw line in the second half. We didn’t defend well enough without fouling to win the game.”

The Mastodons scored 44 points in the second half on 11 of 20 shooting from the field, including 2 of 7 from beyond the arc and 20-of-21 from the line.

The seventh-year coach also pointed to sloppy ball handling by his offense as a factor that ended the Bison’s four-game winning streak.

“We turned it over a lot,” Phillips said. “It was not the sheer number of turnovers … but it was they were live-ball turnovers meaning they could run out of them. That set the tone early.”

NDSU committed 15 turnovers, tying the second-highest total this season, led by the unlikely source of senior guard Taylor Braun’s six. He averaged 2.07 in his 14 previous games.

“When you got your senior player of the year in the league turning it over six times, that is an issue,” Phillips said.

IPFW scored 24 points off turnovers.

At the conclusion of IPFW’s first-half run, the Mastodons held a game-high 15-point lead at 25-10. The Bison answered with an 8-0 run and kept fighting back to pull within three twice during the second half.

With 5:26 remaining, guard Lawrence Alexander hit a jumper in the lane and was fouled. After the made free throw, the Bison trailed 62-59.

“Every time we got within scratching distance –(IPFW’s) Pierre Bland banks in a three at the shot clock,” Phillips said. “We get an open run out … that ends with (Bison senior) Marshall (Bjorklund) at the front of the rim with the ball and makes an awkward effort at it and for whatever reason the ball doesn’t go in the hoop.”

Bland’s 3 was from four steps beyond the arc and propelled IPFW to stretching the lead to 11 with just over two minutes to play.

Bjorklund led the Bison with 19 points, hitting on 70 percent of his shots. Braun added 16 and TrayVonn Wright had 15.

IPFW’s Luis Jacobo had a game-high 20 points.

“We have 13 more chances to win conference games, and we got to do that,” Phillips said. “I told the guys, after I got into them pretty good, this road trip only becomes tragic if you turn one loss into two.”

NDSU (11-5, 0-1 Summit): Alexander 3-10 1-1 8, Brown 4-6 0-1 8, Braun 6-12 2-2 16, Wright 7-14 0-0 15, Bjorklund 7-10 5-7 19, Felt 1-3 0-0 3, Kading 1-1 0-0 2.

IPFW (13-5, 1-0 Summit): Bland 5-7 1-2 12, McCray 1-4 2-2 5, Jacobo 5-12 8-8 20, Kibiloski 1-3 0-0 2, Forbes 6-8 2-2 14, Evans 2-4 2-2 8, Reed 4-9 1-1 9, Edwards 3-5 4-4 12.

Half: IPFW 38, NDSU 31. 3-point goals: NDSU 5, IPFW 8. Total fouls: NDSU 20, IPFW 11. Rebounds: NDSU 28, IPFW 25. Assists: NDSU 9, IPFW 12. Steals: NDSU 4, IPFW 11. Turnovers: NDSU 15, IPFW 11. A: 608.