Things have gone pretty well for the Bison basketball team over the last two and a half seasons. Two consecutive Summit League championships. Two consecutive NCAA tournament appearances. The first NCAA tournament victory in school history. Excellent records against rivals SDSU (4-1) and UND (2-0). Despite the Bison losing their second successful head coach in seven years, the program has been rolling.
The six day stretch from the January 7th home game against Omaha until the January 13th home game against the University of South Dakota was about as rough as it has been to be a Bison. North Dakota State lost that game to Omaha. It was their first loss in Fargo in 31 games. They then lost to Oral Roberts in Tulsa on Saturday night. That was the first time the Thundering Herd had dropped consecutive conference contests since January of 2013.
The biggest blow would come the following Monday, when guard Carlin Dupree (very respectfully) announced his exit from the Bison program. Dupree will transfer. The junior guard made a huge impact on the aforementioned NCAA tournament victory as a freshman. As a sophomore, Dupree started every game and averaged 33 minutes a game. Dupree left the program after losing his starting point guard position to true freshman Khy Kabellis.
Just because Dupree wasn't starting anymore, didn't mean that he wasn't a big loss for the program. Dupree was ideally suited for a combo guard position coming off the bench. His ability to drive, create his own shot and defend his position would have made him a key reserve. His absence leaves a lot of excess minutes for AJ Jacobson, Paul Miller and Khy Kabellis to absorb.
All this happened with two huge home games on the schedule agianst South Dakota and South Dakota State. Coming into the week, the Bison were 1-2 in conference play, and with 7 of their last 11 conference games on the road, the Herd needed a sweep. The young Bison were in need of a shot in the arm.
That shot came from their senior leader Kory Brown. Brown is one of two seniors on the '15-16 Bison, and with the loss of Dupree is one of just three upperclassmen in the program. NDSU is a young team going through a rough spot. They turned to Brown and he responded. "It's been huge. I actually talked to him after....some things happened and I said man we need you now more than ever" said guard Paul Miller.
Brown has been sensational since the departure of Dupree. Known as a defensive stopper, Brown has averaged 6.9 points and 4.4 rebounds over the course of his career. Against South Dakota and South Dakota State, Brown poured in 17.5 points per game, grabbed 10.5 rebounds per game and shot the ball at an extremely efficient 61 percent. That production didn't come at the expense of Brown's legendary hustle either. He played exceptional defense, hounded after loose balls and crashed the offensive glass.
Bison head coach David Richman appreciates Brown's contributions as a senior leader. "It's been great. You look around the league and who's stepping up, it's seniors. We needed every bit of it this weekend, it wasn't just tonight. He was terrific."
Brown is incredibly important to what the Bison do, largely because what he contributes is so unique at the wing position. The Bison have shooters. Paul Miller, AJ Jacobson and Khy Kabellis have all proven an ability to shoot it well. Miller and Kabellis can both handle the ball. Jacobson and Malik Clements are both exceptional at driving and finishing at the rim. Brown is the top defender. Brown is the offensive rebounder. Brown is the energy guy.
Most importantly Brown doesn't need the ball in his hands to be effective. He can get his points on put backs, in transition and on cuts. Kabellis, Jacobson, Clements and Miller are all ball-dominant players. Not only does Brown make the Bison defense go, his ability to function within the offense without needing to touch the ball is just as important.
Brown probably won't average 17 and 10 for the rest of the season, he probably won't need to. It's old news for the senior wing. "They need me now more than ever? That's something I need to push myself harder to do. Rebound a little harder. Defend a little harder. Get that last deflection. Help out my teammates. Knowing that my teammates really expect a lot from me, I just picked up my mentality a little bit more." said Brown.
Brown's break-neck style of play isn't without its concerns. Brown has dealt with two injury concerns already this season. Brown injured his shoulder around Thanksgiving and injured his knee during NDSU's time at Utah State's holiday tournament. Brown is going to need to stay healthy in order for the Bison to make a deep March run. The Herd is going to need their senior leader.