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Jeff Kolpack, Published February 06 2014

Bison hang on, secure first-place tie in Summit League

FARGO – It was no warmup to Saturday’s showdown with Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne. The other hyphenated school from the state of Indiana – Indiana Purdue-Indianapolis – made North Dakota State work for it on Thursday.

The Jaguars came to the Bison Sports Arena losers of seven straight by an average of nearly 19 points a game. They didn’t act like it.

NDSU’s 66-60 victory before 2,877 fans elevated the Bison into a first-place tie in the Summit League with IPFW. The Mastodons and Bison will play at 4 p.m. Saturday for sole possession of the lead.

With just six games left in the regular season, the No. 1 league tournament seed will be part of the equation. Second-place South Dakota State hammered IPFW 79-51 on Thursday.

NDSU almost ruined its chances Thursday, missing a couple of bonus free throws and giving up open 3-point looks on the other end.

“I didn’t like the way we finished it. That’s not us,” said NDSU head coach Saul Phillips. “We’ve closed many games this year, but tonight will not go to the Smithsonian on how to close out games.”

IUPUI rattled off eight quick points in the final two minutes to pull within 59-56. It was a three-point Bison lead on two more occasions in the final minute.

Trailing 64-60, IUPUI missed two shots, the last with 8 seconds left, and NDSU escaped with a Taylor Braun dunk at the buzzer.

“I just felt like we had them on the ropes,” said NDSU guard Lawrence Alexander, “and then we made a couple of bad decisions. There were a couple of times where we didn’t take full control.”

NDSU may have struggled shooting from the perimeter – 0 of 10 from 3-point range – but it was hard for it to miss a slew of dunks, especially in the second half. That and hustle plays by Kory Brown were largely responsible for keeping the Jaguars at a safe distance until the final two minutes.

“He doesn’t get all the credit in the world, but we don’t win this game if not for Kory Brown,” Phillips said.

NDSU can probably look back at Jordan Aaberg for providing key offensive energy when it needed a couple of jolts. Struggling to get any decent looks early on, the 6-foot-9 senior came off the bench for eight of his 11 points, which led to a 10-0 run in the first half.

It was 28-22 at halftime, and the table was set for an explosive first five minutes of the second half for NDSU. Instead, it was the Jaguars who were the better team in that stretch, scoring eight of the first 10.

It didn’t last. A 13-0 run, with an Aaberg three-point play in the middle of it, made it 43-29 with 12:53 remaining.

Over?

Not quite and that had Phillips not feeling like a winning coach following the game.

“Come on, you can’t feel good after that,” he said. “You can’t. Give (IUPUI) a lot of credit. They showed a lot of fight.”

IUPUI (5-20, 0-8 Summit): Stanback 2-4 0-0 5, Patton 7-15 2-2 16, Najee 4-6 0-0 8, McCallum 5-9 0-0 15, Barksdale 1-7 6-6 8, Hubert 1-5 3-3 6, Gibbs 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 21-50 11-11 60.

NDSU (17-6, 6-2 Summit): Wright 2-7 0-1 4, Bjorklund 4-10 0-1 8, Alexander 7-12 3-5 17, Brown 5-5 0-1 10, Braun 5-10 4-6 14, Felt 0-1 0-0 0, Kading 1-3 0-0 2, Aaberg 5-8 1-1 11. Totals: 29-56 8-15 66.

Halftime: NDSU 28, IUPUI 22. Total fouls: IUPUI 16, NDSU 12. Fouled out: none. Rebounds: IUPUI 32 (Patton 8); NDSU 28 (Bjorklund 6). 3-point goals: IUPUI 7-16 (McCallum 5-9, Barksdale 0-1, Hubert 1-4, Stanback 1-1); NDSU 0-10 (Wright 0-4, Alexander 0-2, Braun 0-2, Felt 0-1, Kading 0-1). Assists: IUPUI 8 (Barksdale 4), NDSU 8 (three with 2. Turnovers: IUPUI 15 (Patton 6), NDSU 5 (five with 1). A-2,877.


Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546. Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia