SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) North Dakota State appeared to take control of the game with a big run midway through the second half. However, the Bison had to fend off South Dakota State’s surge down the stretch to earn a return trip to the NCAA Tournament.
Lawrence Alexander scored 16 of his 25 points in the second half to help North Dakota State hold on for a 57-56 win Tuesday night to take the Summit League tournament title and an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
After cutting a nine-point deficit to one in the final minute, the Jackrabbits fouled Alexander with 8 seconds remaining and he missed the front end of a 1-and-1, giving South Dakota State a final shot. However, George Marshall’s 3-point attempt was wide left.
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”We maybe got a little impatient offensively, but they’re a great team,” North Dakota State coach David Richman said. ”It’s a game of runs, and that’s going to happen.”
A.J. Jacobson added 12 points and eight rebounds for the Bison (23-9), who advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the third time in school history. Last year, they beat Oklahoma in their first game.
Cody Larson scored 19 points to lead the Jackrabbits (23-10), and Deondre Parks added 13 points and six rebounds.
The Bison had a 17-4 run in the second half and led by nine with just over 6 minutes remaining. However, the Jackrabbits rallied to pull within one in the final minute. South Dakota State had a chance to take its first lead since the 11:11 mark, but George Marshall’s shot was blocked out of bounds with 8 seconds remaining.
The call on the court originally went to the South Dakota State, but after an official review, possession was given to North Dakota State. The Jackrabbits were forced to put Alexander – an 81-percent free-throw shooter – on the line.
”We wanted this stage,” Richman said. ”We knew our backs were going to be against the wall in a hostile environment with a pro-South Dakota State crowd. But they’ve (North Dakota State players) handled so many things down the stretch this year.”
Despite the missed free throw, Alexander was named the tournament’s MVP.
South Dakota State took its biggest lead of the game at 35-31 when Larson scored on his second of back-to-back dunks with 12:35 to play. Larson’s dunks capped a 12-3 run after the Bison built a five point lead early in the second half.
But Alexander responded to South Dakota State’s surge, hitting two deep 3-pointers in less than a minute, quieting the crowd of 9,033. After North Dakota State built the lead to nine, South Dakota State used a timeout and responded accordingly, setting up the frenzied finish.
The Jackrabbits shot a season-worst 32 percent. They were just 24 percent from the floor in the first half, but were still tied at 23-23 at the break.
”They’re a great defensive team, but the only reason we were in the game is because we played good defensively,” South Dakota State coach Scott Nagy said. ”When you have open shots, you need to be able to knock those things down.”
Nagy was proud of the way his team fought back after nearly falling behind by double digits.
Asked what he told his players after the game, Nagy said: ”I think most people don’t try, and they live in the middle. They don’t put their hearts out there and they try and protect themselves. When you do this and you put your heart out there in front of all these people, sometimes it’s exhilarating and sometimes it’s incredibly painful. But that’s what living feels like.
”I hope they live the rest of their lives that way and they don’t protect themselves. It’s hurtful sometimes. Very hurtful.”
North Dakota State: The Bison outrebounded South Dakota State 43-36. They finished with their second-highest total, two shy of the 45 against Alcorn State on Dec. 22.
South Dakota State: The Jackrabbits entered the game averaging 73.5 points per game and matched their lowest total of the season, set against Bakersfield on Dec. 19.