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MEN'S BASKETBALL: NDSU reaches Summit title game

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — If there was any rust with the North Dakota State men’s basketball team, it was probably underneath the metal chairs on the bench. On the floor, the Bison were a sports car in a bicycle race.

They stepped on the gas pedal at the opening tip and didn’t let up in the semifinals of the Summit League tournament at the Sioux Falls Arena. The 83-48 win over the University of Denver set a tourney record for biggest scoring margin in a semifinal game, eclipsing the previous record of 32 points set by Missouri State over Valparaiso in 1989 when the league was known as the Midcontinent Conference.

“I don’t think we can play much sharper than what we did tonight,” Bison coach Saul Phillips said.

These teams split during the year, but there was no evidence of that on Sunday. The Bison shot 74 percent in the first half, narrowly missing another tournament record, and finished 30 of 47 for 67 percent.

“I think we ran into a buzzsaw tonight,” Denver coach Joe Scott said.

Denver torched the NDSU defense for 15 3-pointers just a week ago in the regular-season finale, a game won by the Bison 78-68. If they turned the nine days since that game into teaching moments, they learned well.

“We didn’t want them to get comfortable around the 3-point line,” Bison forward TrayVonn Wright said. “Make them feel claustrophobic.”

Mission accomplished. The Pioneers were 0 of 6 in the first half from beyond the arc and didn’t hit their first 3-pointer until Bryant Rucker made one with 14 minutes, 15 seconds left in the game. They finished 1 of 13.

The distinction for marksmanship belonged to Bison guard Taylor Braun, who was 4 of 4 from 3-point range and 6 of 6 overall in the first half, which ended with the Bison leading 42-15. Nobody could have predicted that kind of an onslaught.

The 27-point halftime lead matched the largest of the season equaling the 43-16 advantage over NAIA Viterbo College (Wis.). Moreover, with the Bison scoring the first six points of the second half and DU still struggling on offense, the team scoring defense record – 34 points shared by Missouri-Kansas City (2013) and University of Jamestown (2006) – looked to be a threat.

That didn’t happen.

That’s about all that didn’t happen.

“We didn’t let off the gas much all night,” Phillips said. “At the half, we had six missed shots and had five offensive rebounds. That’s pretty complete right there.”

The Bison had two advantages, Phillips said. One was rest – they had a first-round bye. The other was having a week to prepare for Denver. NDSU already had the book on South Dakota, which Denver beat on Sunday, so it focused more on the Pioneers.

“It did wonders for us to prep defensively, I don’t think there’s any question about that,” Phillips said. “It almost drove me out of my mind is what it did. I was on edge all week with the bye, but that shows you what worrying does for you.”

It was the first time any team won by more than 30 points in any tourney game since Valparaiso beat IUPUI by 33 in the 2002 title game. The 74 percent shooting in the first half was the best tourney effort since Northern Iowa shot 76 percent against Northern Illinois in 1991.

Denver’s 15 first-half points was the lowest in any half since UMKC had that in 2003.

“It seemed like we couldn’t make a shot, and they made every shot,” Scott said.