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Mick Garry / Argus Leader (Sioux Falls, S.D.), Published January 30 2014

Bison hang on for men's basketball win at USD

VERMILLION, S.D. – The North Dakota State men’s basketball team endured a difficult second half on Thursday at the DakotaDome but the last two minutes were definitely to their liking.

The Bison’s fifth consecutive win over the Coyotes was far more difficult than the previous four, but free throws at the end from a veteran lineup was enough – along with a pair of missed USD free throws with 9.5 seconds remaining at the other end – to keep them moving in the right direction.

NDSU (16-5, 5-1) triumphed 66-63, winning for the fifth consecutive time in the conference and heads to Denver knowing that experience tends to show up when it needs to show up.

“We’ve been in situations like this before,” said Lawrence Alexander, who scored 12 points. “We know we have to stick to the things we do night in, night out. We kept going through Marshall (Bjorklund) and Taylor (Braun) and everybody else plays off them.”

The departure from the script was that Bjorklund had fouled out by the time the pivotal plays were made and Braun was having a miserable night shooting the ball. No matter.

Trailing 61-55 with 4:07 to play, the Bison did not give up another Coyotes field goal, and Braun hit a jumper with 1:09 to play to tie the score at 61-61, then converted a three-point play with 33 seconds left to give the Bison a 64-63 lead.

“When it’s clutch time, that’s where we go,” Alexander said. “There have been games where nothing goes his way, but he always comes through for us. It’s nothing new to me. We’ve seen it last year and this year.”

USD had played the Bison four times since joining the Summit League, with NDSU winning those four by an average of 19.75 points. It looked like that was where this one was headed early with the Bison taking a 44-33 lead into halftime over a USD team that was struggling to find shots in the half court against NDSU’s zone defense.

The Bison scored exactly half the points in the second half that they’d scored in the first half, however, hitting just 7 of 26 from the field.

“It was a heck of a game – the tale of two halves for our basketball team,” said USD interim coach Joey James. “We gave up 44 in the first half, then went into the second half with energy and focus – we had every opportunity to win that basketball game.”

USD tied the score 52-52 on a Trey Norris layup with 10:37 remaining and eventually extended that to 61-55 on a pair of free throws by Brandon Bos with 4:07 remaining.

“It’s hard to win a game when you can’t score,” said TrayVonn Wright, who led the Bison with 20 points. “They were playing really good defense, but we were able to contain them late.”

Four of the Bison’s five starters played 36 or more minutes, with Bjorklund reduced to 23 with foul trouble. He finally left the game with 2:54 to play.

It was an encouraging sign for USD, which fell to 3-3 in the conference, but the Coyotes were not able to take advantage of it. With 9.5 seconds to play, Trevor Gruis, who led USD with 16 points, missed a pair of free throws that kept the Bison lead at 64-63. After Wright converted another two from the line, NDSU warded off overtime when Adam Thoseby’s long 3-point attempt rolled around the rim and fell to the floor.

“We feel like we’re in every game no matter what happens,” Wright said. “We got faith in each other – Taylor making plays at the end of the game, me making the free throws – it’s all a team effort.”