The first indication that No. 12 seed North Dakota State could pull off a big upset in the NCAA tournament came well before the Bison’s game against No. 5 seed Oklahoma Thursday night. It came on Dec. 11, when North Dakota State won at Notre Dame, a team that has been difficult to beat in its home arena.
The Bison faced OU on a neutral court, but the result was the same. Not to be outdone by Harvard, the No. 12 seed in the East region, which upset No. 5 Cincinnati hours earlier, North Dakota State upended the Sooners, 80-75, in overtime. “I can’t even describe it,” senior guard Taylor Braun said afterward in a television interview. “I’m so happy right now.”
The Bison held a single-digit lead through most of the second half, but a three-point shot from Sooners guard Cameron Clark with just over two minutes to go cut North Dakota State’s deficit to one. Then guard Isaiah Cousins converted a pair of free throws for a one-point lead. After timeout near the 20-second mark, Bison guard Lawrence Alexander drilled a contested three to tie the game at 66.
Oklahoma had three opportunities to win the game in regulation – a three-point shot, a mid-range jumper and a layup – but missed them all. Alexander, who finished with a game-high 28 points, came up big again in overtime, knocking down a jumper for a four-point lead and sinking four free throws in the final minute to help the Bison seal the win. North Dakota State was also buoyed by a combined 27 points and 11 rebounds from forwards TrayVonn Wright and Marshall Bjorklund.
Perhaps the most impressive part about the victory was the fact that Braun, the Bison’s star player and leading-scorer, finished with just 11 points (well below his season average of 18.2 points per game) and fouled out in overtime. “I really didn’t play that well,” Braun said. North Dakota State as able to outgun an explosive offensive team – one that entered Thursday’s game ranked 13th in the country in offensive efficiency and finished second in the rugged Big 12 – despite its best player slogging through an off game.
Just imagine what North Dakota State is capable of if Braun plays to his potential. The winner of the game between West Region No. 4 seed San Diego State and No. 13 seed New Mexico State, which will face the Bison in the round of 32 on Saturday, might find out firsthand.
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