Southern Miss Beats NDSU in Nail-Biter
Published: Wednesday, November 20, 2013
Updated: Thursday, November 21, 2013 02:11
The old Bison Sports Arena came alive Monday night. With two teams ranked high in several mid-major Top 25 polls, the crowd of 3,724 saw an exciting battle until the end. But Southern Miss, out of Conference USA, held off a valiant NDSU comeback for a 70-69 win.
Said to be the most talented team to come to the BSA, the energetic fans weren’t left disappointed in the heavily-hyped game.
“It was a great college basketball game,” NDSU head coach Saul Phillips said. “I think both those teams are going to make a lot of noise come postseason.”
Perhaps TrayVonn Wright had the nicest angle of the game out of everyone in attendance. He spent most of his second half above the rim with three monstrous jams that helped get the momentum back on the Bison’s side. Wright also contributed three blocks with his 21 points and 12 rebounds.
“TrayVonn Wright’s best game as a Bison, without a question,” Phillips said.
NDSU needed that momentous lift from Wright. Especially when Southern Miss ended the first half on a 21-6 run that started on an 18-0 run. The Golden Eagles (3-0) had a suffocating trapping zone that gave the Bison fits. After building a 22-18 lead, NDSU gave up 18 straight points.
A string of errant passes and missed jumpers contributed to the big Southern Miss run. The Golden Eagles had 17 points off turnovers in the first half to build a 39-28 halftime lead.
“I thought for a stretch in the first half we were extremely tentative,” Phillips said. “It dug us a hole that we almost got out of. But I’m telling you, watching my guys fight and claw to try and get out of that hole was inspiring.”
The Bison settled in and began climbing back into the game to get the crowd back into it in the second half. A 9-0 run tied the game at 39 after a Taylor Braun bucket. But NDSU never took a lead. The game was tied again at 44 after one of Mike Felt’s four three pointers, at 49 off a huge Wright put-back slam and at 63 and 65.
“Just the energy,” Wright said on his key dunks. “It gets everyone playing harder and gets the crowd into it. The momentum, I mean, everybody starts to sit down and lock up on defense.”
But the final dagger came when Neil Watson decided to make his only field of the game, a three pointer just over a minute to play to make the score 70-66. Marshall Bjorklund hit a free throw to make it a 3-point game with 52 seconds remaining. The Bison got the ball back off a Kory Brown steal and Wright nearly cashed in on an and-1 but settled with two free throws to make it 70-69.
NDSU fouled Chip Armelin, who missed both free throws and the Bison had one last chance to go the length of the court in 1.8 seconds.
“It was all business,” Phillips said on the final timeout. “You’re just trying to make sure you get a shot off. With 1.8 seconds left, you’re pretty limited with your options.”
NDSU never got the chance. Lawrence Alexander flung the ball across half court to Wright, who turned and then got it stripped from Watson as the buzzer sounded.
“Their kid made a really gutsy play on that,” Phillips said. “To go for a steal at that point in the game, a reach in puts us on the line. A gutty play, but tip of the cap to them.”
The Bison drop to 1-2 on the season in a tough nonconference start of the year.
“We got a place where we want to take this program, long term,” Phillips said. “Not today, not tomorrow … this is a step forward, it is.”