A year ago, we witnessed Lawrence Alexander's coming out party. On Tuesday night, he gave us a chance to remember.
North Dakota State will be headed back to the NCAA Tournament after a 57-56 win over South Dakota State in the Summit League Championship game. The Bison had to survive a late run by the Jackrabbits, a drought at the free throw line, and a final shot by Deondre Parks that hammered off the backboard.
But the Bison did survive, and in no small part due to the play of Alexander.
For a moment, let's go back in time. In the second round of the NCAA Tournament (what will now rightly be called the first round again), North Dakota State squared up against Oklahoma. It was the one matchup that looked a certain win for the underdog in the pregame analysis.
And yet it wasn't Taylor Braun, the Bison star who led the way. It wasn't Marshall Bjorklund, who improved mightily when Braun had been out with injuries.
No, it was a 6-3, 180, junior who stood up against Oklahoma. It was Alexander. He went 4-for-7 from 3-point range in that game, and landed six more shots to total 28 points in the overtime win.
Without Alexander in that game, the Bison go down, and we never get to see SaulBall at its best.
OK, back to Tuesday night. Alexander was player of the year in the Summit League. He had a better season than he had as a junior. He is still all of 6-3, 180, and asked to do everything for this North Dakota State team.
In the games where he wasn't his best, North Dakota State went down.
Tuesday night, he was at that best.
The senior made just two shots inside the arc. But it was the six he crushed from 3-point range that sealed this win for the Bison.
Over the course of two possessions which ended with seven minutes remaining in the second half, Alexander shoved the dagger into South Dakota State with back-to-back threes. The Twittersphere erupted with claims of "He's On Fire" and general awe.
But we need to remember that we saw this before from Alexander. He gave us this glimpse in the biggest game that North Dakota State had played to that point. He cemented that thought in our mind Tuesday night in the next biggest game for the Bison.
This won't be the same North Dakota State team that we remember. They will lull everyone to sleep with the motion offense that fought hard to find every shot against an evenly matched South Dakota State defense.
They fought hard against a Sioux Falls crowd that was ever in the favor of the Jackrabbits.
They found the seams, and they found the open man, that was more often than not Alexander.
A lot will be made of the official review at the end of the game, a review that saw the ball go off the fingertips of George Marshall. It reversed a call that originally gave the ball to the Jackrabbits after amazing North Dakota State defense prevented Marshall from finding a lane to the basket. But that will overshadow the game that the Bison executed overall to score this win.
They are back in the NCAA Tournament, and hopefully Alexander has at least one more show in his repertoire. This isn't the same lock of an upset pick that they were last season, but if the Bison can get the right matchup and slow them to a crawl as they are wont to do, we could see magic once again.