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Eric Peterson, Published March 01 2014

Bison men get victory in likely final game at the Bison Sports Arena

FARGO – North Dakota State senior Jordan Aaberg saved one of his best offensive performances to close down the Bison Sports Arena.

Aaberg scored a season-high 13 points Saturday night in likely the final college men’s basketball game in the facility. His effort helped fuel a 78-68 victory against Denver to close out the Summit League regular season.

“He’s a great offensive weapon for us,” said Bison senior Taylor Braun, who scored a team-high 16 points on senior night. “He’s worked really hard to get his body in shape to where he can play.”

In the ceremony following the game, Bison head coach Saul Phillips told the crowd this team has a minimum five less wins without Aaberg on the team. The 6-foot-9 forward, who has fought through concussion and back issues in his Bison career, made 6 of 8 shots from the field against the Pioneers. Aaberg and senior post Marshall Bjorklund combined for 25 points on 11-for-14 shooting.

“I’ve been trying to imitate Marshall these past few years after playing with him for so long,” Aaberg said with a smile.

Aaberg, from Rothsay, Minn., was one of six Bison seniors honored after the game. Phillips recalled practices where Aaberg held on the rim after a dunk because he knew his back would hurt after he landed.

“It’s a two-headed monster when they are both playing well,” Phillips said of the 6-foot-8 Bjorklund and Aaberg. “There are a lot of mid-major teams out there who would have Jordan Aaberg as their starting center.”

The Bison pounded Denver, scoring 44 points in the paint. The Pioneers hung close, however, making 15 of 32 shots from 3-point range.

“We got things to work on,” Phillips said. “That wasn’t good enough for me defensively.”

Denver cut the Bison lead to 63-58 after sophomore Nate Engesser sank a 3-pointer with 2 minutes, 37 seconds remaining in the second half. Braun answered that 3-point shot with a driving layup moments later, a basket that spark a string of five consecutive NDSU points.

Braun and the rest of the seniors were taken from the game with 14 seconds to play to a standing ovation. Little-used senior guard Fred Newell came into the game as the other five seniors left the BSA floor for most likely the final time.

“It’s just a good memory for us all,” said Bjorklund, who scored 12 points in 22 minutes.

NDSU senior TrayVonn Wright had two highlight dunks in his final home game. His final slam came over the top of a Denver defender for a 3-point play that gave NDSU a 50-40 lead with 10:37 remaining. Shooting guard Mike Felt is also part of a senior class that earlier in the week earned the No. 1 seed for the Summit League tournament.

“Words can’t describe what this senior group meant to me,” Phillips said. “We were playing for our seniors to go out with a win.”

The Bison get a first-round bye in the Summit tournament, which starts next Saturday. NDSU plays the Denver-South Dakota winner on March 10 in the semifinals.

“We’ve got work to do still guys.” Aaberg said to the crowd during the postgame ceremony.

DENVER (15-14, 8-6 Summit): Udofia 3-7 4-10 10, Love 3-7 0-1 8, Rucker 3-6 0-0 8, Olson 6-11 3-4 20, Griffin 0-4 0-0 0, Samac 0-0 0-0 0, Engesser 6-8 2-2 19, Byrd 1-5 0-0 3. Totals 22-48 9-17 68.

NDSU (23-6, 12-2): Wright 4-6 2-4 11, Bjorklund 5-6 2-2 12, Alexander 3-6 6-6 12, Brown 4-4 4-4 12, Braun 4-10 7-9 16, Newell 0-0 0-0 0, Felt 0-2 0-0 0, Checkal 0-0 0-0 0, Dupree 0-0 0-0 0, Kading 1-1 0-0 2, Werner 0-0 0-0 0, Aaberg 6-8 1-2 13. Totals 27-43 22-27 78.

Half: NDSU 27, DU 22. Total fouls: DU 24, NDSU 16. Fouled out: Love. 3-point goals: DU 15-32 (Udofia 0-1, Love 2-4, Rucker 2-4, Olson 5-10, Griffin 0-1, Engesser 5-7, Byrd 1-5), NDSU 2-8 (Wright 1-2, Alexander 0-2, Braun 1-2, Felt 0-2). Rebounds: DU 19 (Udofia 5, Olson 5), NDSU 32 (Braun 7). Assists: DU 14 (Udofia 7), NDSU 13 (three players with 3). Steals: DU 4 (Love 2), NDSU 4 (Alexander 2). Turnovers: DU 7 (Udofia 2, Rucker 2), NDSU 8 (Bjorklund 2, Braun 2). A-4,527.

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

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