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Kevin Schnepf, Published March 20 2014

Schnepf: NDSU adds to list of D-I victims

SPOKANE, Wash. - Move over Wisconsin, Marquette, Notre Dame, Minnesota and Kansas State.

Oklahoma is replacing you on top of the list of North Dakota State’s victims in its brief history of Division I athletics.

In a decade when Bison fans have thought they’ve seen it all, it was topped – and then some – Thursday night when in front of a national television audience in the world’s most-watched basketball tournament, NDSU’s men’s basketball team pulled the biggest stunner during the first day of the NCAA tournament.

NDSU 80, Oklahoma 75 – in overtime, no less.

“This is the biggest win for all our sports,” said NDSU athletic director Gene Taylor, who watched the final three minutes of regulation and overtime in the catacombs of Spokane Arena. “I couldn’t watch it anymore. This is just unbelievable.”

Lights, camera, action.

The pundits – including President Barack Obama – who picked the Bison to win, could proudly proclaim: I told you so. Today, this upset will be analyzed, scrutinized and idolized even more on CBS, ESPN, TBS, TNT and TruTV, not to mention all the social media that is out there plus the traditional print outlets that have convened in Spokane for this tournament.

“I see ya, Biiizon bballers,” tweeted ESPN’s Chris Fowler, the host of College Game Day who hosted the show in downtown Fargo last fall.

Can you ask for any more exposure? The only thing missing was Al Michaels announcing: “Do you believe in miracles?”

“This is a game changer,” said NDSU President Dean Bresciani. “The entire country will now see North Dakota as a basketball state because of this win.”

NDSU’s propensity to play the role of giant slayer since moving to Division I in 2004 started innocently with a men’s basketball win at Wisconsin in January 2006. It continued in December 2006 with a basketball win at Marquette. In 2007 and 2011, the football team knocked off Minnesota. Then last fall, the football team upset Kansas State before this basketball team won at Notre Dame.

A group of five diehard Bison fans from Westhope, N.D., watched from the front-row seats they purchased online. The $780 they each spent to watch all six games here was well worth it.

The group of Danen Lodoen, Jordan Cooper, Layne Fluhrer, Anthony Lee and Jameson Hall hopped in a rented 15-passenger van and drove 14 hours to Spokane. Their road trip, originally planned for Milwaukee until they learned where the Bison would be playing, was nothing new.

They drove to Minneapolis to watch the 2009 Bison basketball team play in the NCAA tournament. They drove to the past two NCAA Tournaments in Omaha and Kansas City. And they drove to the past three national championship football games in Frisco.

“We all know football gets all the credit and the publicity,” Lodoen said. “But this … this is great for the basketball program.”

It wasn’t the only surprise of the day in Spokane Arena.

Earlier, Harvard knocked off Cincinnati. But it was hardly the shocker that NDSU produced.

After all, Harvard did the same thing last year in this tournament with a first-round upset over New Mexico.

“They really aren’t upsets anymore,” said Harvard head coach Tommy Amaker. “They are surprises. Having done it last year, we know the amazing feelings you can have, though, from an upset-type victory.”

The last Summit League team to pull off an upset like this was Valparaiso in 1998. That’s when Bryce Drew hit a game-winning 3-pointer to knock off Mississippi – a highlight that is still being rerun about this time of year.

Since Valparaiso made its historic run to the Sweet 16 16 years ago, Summit League teams have lost their opening-round games by an average score of 80-63. Not counting Oakland’s 79-69 play-in win over Alabama A&M in 2005, the Summit League had a 15-game losing streak in this tournament.

“They definitely showed the nation that they could play at the highest level,” said Summit League commissioner Tom Douple. “We knew it all along … now it has just been codified.”

That’s a big word meaning NDSU is for real.

This may have come as a surprise for the 10,500 Spokane Arena fans who joined the 600 Bison fans late in the game chanting: “Let’s Go Bison. Let’s Go Bison.”

But it’s almost reached the point now with this Division I thing that we should come to expect these epic victories.

Bison head coach Saul Phillips knows it’s huge, but he simply wants to keep coaching this group of seniors he brought to Fargo five years ago.

“I will let you guys figure out how big it is,” Phillips said to the media scribes during the postgame news conference.

It’s big. And it will keep getting bigger today when Phillips and his boys answer more questions about their upset and the fact that they are now one win from a Sweet 16 berth.

“We are just trying to soak in every moment of this right now,” said Bison standout Taylor Braun.

“It’s pretty nuts,” said fellow senior Marshall Bjorklund. “I can’t imagine what Saturday is going to be like.”


Readers can reach Forum Sports Editor Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549 or kschnepf@forumcomm.com.

Schnepf’s NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com