Friday night's win over the Fighting Hawks of North Dakota was a significant one for a lot of reasons. It was the first time a Bison team won in Grand Forks since 2003. It was a big comeback victory for a young squad, and 6-3 looks quite a bit better in the W/L ledger than 5-4. It was also a much different lineup than the Bison used in their four previous games without senior wing Kory Brown.
Not only did Brown return, relocating Malik Clements to his role as a bench scorer, but true freshman big Dylan Miller got his first career start. "Bringing Chris (Kading) off the bench is back to his role two years ago, him coming in and playing some minutes at the floor gives us the chance to get AJ off the floor. Very encouraged where Dylan's at as a true freshman, it helps the rotation, and Chris's overall health." said head coach David Richman.
Miller's first start only lasted 11 minutes. He ran into foul trouble early and the Bison had to go with different lineups to crawl their way back into the game. True big men Miller, Kading and Dexter Werner only played 35 of a possible 120 minutes. At times Richman played "5 out" with four guards and AJ Jacobson on the floor.
There are plenty of reasons to be excited about Miller's future, considering his 2 ppg and 1.5 rpg and 50% FG percentage in just 6 minutes per game. Maybe the best harbinger for the efficiency of Miller's game was his eight point, six rebound performance in just nine minutes against Southern Miss. According to Miller, he was told at the airport on the way home from that game that he was going to be the new starting big man in the Bison lineup.
Despite making his first start, Miller didn't even make the biggest freshman impact on Friday night's game. That honor clearly belonged to guard Khy Kabellis. Kabellis scored 18 points in 24 huge minutes for North Dakota State. The "Grand Forks Drought" wouldn't be over if it weren't for the young guard from Escondido, California. "It was amazing, it was great to be there when the team needed me most. I went to the football game in September, I saw the hate and the rivalry, I've never heard so many boos in my life" said Kabellis.
From the 6:06 mark to 0:41, Kabellis had 12 points. NDSU flipped a 56-50 deficit into a 66-61 lead. After all the fouling and the free throws the Bison were victorious. It's hard to believe that NDSU would have beaten the Fighting Hawks without the out-of-nowhere contributions from the freshman guard. Going into Friday night's contest at UND Kabellis hadn't had more than 7 points in a game. Despite 6-7 shooting in Grand Forks, Kabellis is still shooting just 34% on the season.
While Dylan Miller's minutes as a starter were restricted, Kabellis' were expanded. Starting point guard Carlin Dupree played 21 minutes to Kabellis' 24. It's reasonable to expect major contributions from Kabellis and Miller while still getting valuable minutes from veterans like Kading, Werner and Dupree.
"We feel like it's been a strength of our all along that we're a little bit deeper than we were in the past. We've already had seven guys be in double figures and Dylan was at eight at Southern Miss in just nine minutes" explained Richman.
These Bison are the deepest unit in recent NDSU history. Last year, the Thundering Herd played 7 guys. The 2013-14 crew played 7 as well, even shortening that a bit when Mike Felt's minutes were reduced towards the end of the season. These Bison are playing their starters, Malik Clements, Kabellis, Kading and Werner without hesitation. In a tough spot Brian Ishola can play a guard spot and Spencer Eliason can play the post. The key will be settling in on a rotation and rhythm before conference play.
The Bison have five non-conference games left to get settled in. It starts tonight at the Scheel's Arena at 7 PM against Montana State of the Big Sky.