SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) North Dakota State coach Saul Phillips was set to enjoy his ”big ESPN moment” when the final buzzer sounded ensuring the Bison’s second trip to the NCAA tournament.
About to hug his wife after the ”hero shot,” Phillips noticed two of their kids darting in yellow-and-green overalls toward the midcourt mayhem. He was about to make a run for daughter Jordan, 10, and son Charlie, 8, but they disappeared in the scrum.
”I wasn’t about to go just sort of ripping people off,” Phillips said. ”I had to trust that the gentle fans of North Dakota State would take mercy on their souls. I don’t know what it looked like on film.”
The kids were fine, and the Bison faithful and players got to celebrate their last-minute 60-57 win over IPFW on Tuesday night for the Summit League title. North Dakota is headed to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2009, when it lost in the opening round to Kansas 84-74.
Phillips said it’s nice to see his players’ hard work rewarded.
”This group is as tight as you can be and as fun to work with as you can get,” he said. ”You just can’t get any better. I’ve loved every second of it.”
The game was a defensive battle in which the Bison trailed for most of the game. Up by just a point with 12 seconds remaining, tournament MVP Taylor Braun drove into the paint and challenged 6-foot-9, 295-pound IPFW forward Steve Forbes, sinking the layup while drawing the foul.
Braun said the Bison (25-6) have been through a lot together and have always had a chip on their shoulder, so it was fitting that they had to rally for the win.
”This has been an unbelievably hard journey for us,” Braun said. ”Nothing has ever come easy to a lot of the guys on this team. A lot of us were overlooked coming out of high school.”
Braun finished the night with 15 points despite getting off to a slow start. Fellow senior TrayVonn Wright led the Bison with 19 points.
”We wouldn’t have even been there if Tray didn’t carry us the whole game,” Braun said.
Wright acknowledged that Sioux Falls Arena, which has hosted Summit League tournaments since 2009 , has been good to him over his career, but he remained humble about his performance.
”I guess it’s just part of my job,” Wright said. ”That’s why Coach got me here, and Coach believes in me and trusts me to do certain things on the court.”