"Anytime you go on the road, you know it's going to be difficult. You travel halfway across the country to San Diego and then back (to the Central Time zone) in one weekend. We had a good weekend, not necessarily a great weekend, and we are striving for greatness." -Head Coach David Richman
Sophomore forward AJ Jacobson took NDSU's first shot of the second half Sunday afternoon and nailed it. His shot with 19:49 left on the second half clock pushed the Bison lead to fourteen points and appeared to set up one of the most impressive weekends in Bison men's basketball history. After a big victory over UC Davis (14-2 in the Big West last season), the Bison had a chance to defeat their second Big Ten opponent in program history.
It didn't quite work out that way. NDSU had a field goal drought from 10:28 to 3:39 that allowed Illinois to come from behind and avoid their first 0-2 start since 1923. The Bison lost to the Illini 80-74, certainly a fine showing from a mid-major program.
It would be very easy to blame the late game collapse on the travel from the west coast to Illinois in less than 48 hours, especially on the 4:15 AM wake up call early on Saturday morning. Overtime games are tough. Overtime games with two time zones between them and a game in a day and a half are even tougher. The Bison coaches and players would have none of it.
"Those are excuses, those are excuses that we need to eliminate. You look at our Summit League schedule and there's gonna be a lot of Thursday-Saturday, a lot of Thursday at home and Saturday on the road." said Richman. Sophomore guard Paul Miller agreed: "To get even one road win is big. We're not satisfied, we feel like we left one out there at Illinois. You can't make excuses like that; Coach says that all the time. You can make a million excuses, none of them matter."
Miller took on a big part of the scoring load left behind by 2014-2015 Summit League Player of the Year Lawrence Alexander. Miller had 20 against Davis and another 19 against Illinois, largely because of 7-17 shooting from three point land. Miller has moved into the starting lineup alongside Carlin Dupree and has made an immediate impact. "I think obviously with LA gone, there are more shots and more points for the taking. I felt like a lot of my points came off of teammates setting me up well this season. We don't necessarily have one guy." said Miller.
Also in a starting role for the first time is Bismarck native Dexter Werner. Werner was a force on Friday night, filling up the stat sheet in every way possible. The junior finished with 16 points, 12 rebounds, 3 assists, one steal and a block. "He just battles his butt off, he was the spark. He carried us in the second half. He's the reason we won that game" said Miller.
The Bison played admirably against the Illini. They led by 11 at the half, by 14 in the second half and again by 10 with 11:08 to play. Newcomers Malik Clements and Khy Kabellis contributed big minutes on the road trip, with Clements pouring in 18 points off the bench against Illinois. In the end the Illini (and probably the travel) were too much for the young Bison.
North Dakota State opens up with Division II Valley City State tonight at the Scheel's Arena. Coach Richman and his staff view the Vikings as just another tough opponent on the schedule. "We're trying to get better. It doesn't matter (who we're playing). We're still trying to define the '15-16 Bison. We're trying to still get better on a daily basis, and this is a great opportunity" said Richman.
Coach Richman is expected to get Chris "Big Velvet" Kading back tonight against Valley City State. The senior big man missed the opening road trip. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:00 PM tonight at the Scheel's Center.