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Scott Holland / Special to The Forum, Published February 13 2014

Bison pull out men's basketball win against Western Illinois

MACOMB, Ill. – Over the years, Western Hall has not been kind to the North Dakota State men’s basketball program.

The Bison haven’t won often on Western Illinois’ home floor, and there were times on Thursday night when it appeared North Dakota State was heading into dangerous territory again.

But whenever North Dakota State needed a play, the Bison were able to get it, winning 56-52 to maintain their lead in the Summit League.

“We don’t win here often. I don’t think, other than Mike Felt, any of our guys have won here before,” NDSU coach Saul Phillips said. “We had a few senior moments out there.

“Our guys, Taylor (Braun), (Marshall) Bjorkland, TrayVonn (Wright), Kory (Brown) and LA (Lawrence Alexander) kept making plays and getting stops when we needed it.”

Seven times in the second half, Western Illinois cut the Bison lead to a one-possession game, thrice to just a point, but every time North Dakota State (19-6, 8-2) was able to make a bucket, a free throw or get a stop to keep the Leathernecks from taking the lead.

“We’ve been in this spot before here,” Peoria, Ill., native and NDSU guard Alexander (14 points) said. “We’ll get down or behind, but we’ve learned how to win these games on the road.”

Free-throw shooting was a major key as the Bison hit 17 of 19 while Western Illinois hit 7 of 12.

“We haven’t been great from the line lately, but we always practice, we try to get 50 up as a team at every practice,” Alexander said. “Tonight it showed, when we needed it, we got them.”

After a back and forth first half ended with a 28-26 Bison lead, North Dakota State would open the second half with a big run, stretching the lead to 10 points, forcing two quick Western Illinois timeouts.

“I had the wrong guys in,” Western Illinois head coach Jim Molinari said. “I take the blame for that and learned a lesson.

“I have to make sure I have the right guys in at the beginning of the second half. We talk about second half defense, I need to look at the lineup more, that’s as simple as I can put it.”

The Leathernecks would charge back, but thanks to a veteran group, the Bison never surrendered the lead.

The Bison defense also came up big, forcing 17 Leatherneck turnovers.

“We just needed to make a few big stops, and we were able to,” Phillips said. “With all the injuries they’ve (the Leathernecks) had and all the lineups they’ve cobbled together, we still knew this was going to be tough.

“That’s a credit to their coach. Coach Mo does a great job getting his guys to play. We’re a team that likes to get up and down and can score, but they held us to their style of game.”

And North Dakota State was able to beat the Leathernecks (9-15, 3-6) playing a slow-down, defensive-oriented game.

“They’re (North Dakota State) a very good team, Saul does a great job with them,” Molinari said. “The difference was their guys were able to get to the foul line tonight and we weren’t. They were just able to finish and we couldn’t’.”

Taylor Braun led the way for the Bison, scoring 19 points. Alexander added 14 and Marshall Bjorklund chipped in with 12.

NORTH DAKOTA STATE (56): Ko.Brown 2-5 0-0 4, T.Braun 5-9 8-10 19, L.Alexander 4-10 4-4 14, Bjorklund 4-4 4-4 12, Tr.Wright 1-10 0-0 2, Kading 0-0 0-0 0, Aaberg 1-2 0-0 2, C.Dupree 1-5 1-1 3, Felt 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 18-45 17-19 56.

WESTERN ILLINOIS (52): Link 6-10 1-1 13, Ochereobia 4-8 1-3 9, G.Covington 2-8 0-0 5, Sandifer 4-11 3-6 13, Jr.Foster 0-2 0-0 0, Miklusak 2-3 0-0 6, Stensgaard 2-2 2-2 6, Hawthorne 0-3 0-0 0. Totals 20-47 7-12 52.

North Dakota State 28 28 — 56

Western Illinois 26 26 — 52

3-Point Goals: North Dakota State 3-16 (L.Alexander 2-5, T.Braun 1-3, C.Dupree 0-1, Tr.Wright 0-7), Western Illinois 5-14 (Miklusak 2-2, Sandifer 2-3, G.Covington 1-4, Jr.Foster 0-2, Hawthorne 0-3). Fouled out: None. Rebounds: North Dakota State 30 (Tr.Wright 9), Western Illinois 26 (Ochereobia 6). Assists: North Dakota State 6 (T.Braun 3), Western Illinois 12 (Sandifer 6). Total Fouls: North Dakota State 13 (T.Braun 4), Western Illinois 18 (Ochereobia, Stensgaard, Sandifer 4). A—1,962.