Tiny Dancers: North Dakota State goes dancing for second straight year

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Lawrence Alexander led North Dakota State to the Big Dance. (USATSI)
Lawrence Alexander led North Dakota State to the Big Dance. (USATSI)

Despite a coaching change and the loss of a star, North Dakota State is going back to the NCAA tournament for a second straight year.

North Dakota State defeated South Dakota State 57-56 in the Summit League championship game on Tuesday night, clinching a chance to try to replicate last season’s success.

It was a tight game until an NDSU run around the eight-minute mark gave the Bison a bit of space and stretched out an eight-point lead. The Jackrabbits were able to close late and had a chance to win it after Lawrence Alexander, who scored 25 points, missed the front end of a one-and-one. But Deondre Parks’ 3 at the buzzer went wide, and the NDSU fan section got a chance to rush the floor in South Dakota.

Obviously there was more to this team last year than coach Saul Phillips, now at Ohio, and Taylor Braun, the Summit’s player of the year in 2014. This year, it was 36-year-old Dave Richman who took over for Phillips and Alexander who replaced Braun as the star. This season’s iteration of the Bison play smart basketball. They rarely turn the ball over, control the defensive glass and rarely foul. Yeah, they still play pretty slowly. But overall, this is a team that could be fun to watch in a single-game setting.

Player to watch: Alexander was the Summit’s player of the year this season, scoring 18.7 points per game while shooting 43 percent from behind the 3-point line. The Bison were picked to finish fifth in the league with a new coach needing to replace five rotation seniors, but Alexander, the lone senior on this year’s roster, has picked up the slack as a leader and made the critical plays necessary to get the team back to this point.

The Vitals:

  • Record: 23-9 overall, 12-4 in the Summit
  • Most recent tournament appearance: 2014 (beat Oklahoma in the first round in one of the more fun games of the tournament, 80-75 in overtime. Then lost in the Round of 32 to San Diego State 63-44).
  • Jerry Palm predicts: 15 seed
  • RPI: 113
  • KenPom ranking: 158
  • Sagarin ranking: 159
  • Best wins: vs. Akron, vs. South Dakota State
  • Notable stat: 41.8. The Bison knocked down 41.8 percent of their 3-point attempts in conference this season. If you want to win an NCAA game, the best way to do it against a team better than you are is by playing slow (325th nationally in pace) and raining 3s.
  • Closing quip: Overall, I doubt this team’s viability as an upset team, but they could put a good scare into someone if they make some 3s early. Still though, this is an awesome accomplishment from Richman, their first-year coach who has gotten this young team back to the NCAA tournament after last season’s great performance.

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