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First Four: North Dakota State edges North Carolina Central, gets date with Duke

A late rally earned the Bison their second ever NCAA Tournament win.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament First Four-North Carolina Central Eagles vs North Dakota State Bison Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

For a moment, it looked like it would finally be North Carolina Central’s time in Dayton. Instead, a late North Dakota State rally sent the Bison to a date with top overall seed Duke, and the Eagles home with their third consecutive First Four loss.

After having led by as many as 13 points early in the second half, NDSU found itself trailing 66-61 with just five minutes left. From there, the Bison would close the game on a 17-8 run, stiffening up and holding NCCU to just two field goals in the final 3:28. NDSU wing Tyson Ward (23 points) commanded the ball down the stretch, scoring seven points in the final two and a half pressure-packed, win-or-go-home minutes.

That included a nifty isolation spin move along the baseline with just over a minute remaining.

Junior point guard Vinnie Shahid added 14 points and three assists, including a pair of free throws with eight seconds to give NDSU a two possession lead and put the game out of reach. Jared Samuelson and Sam Griesel each scored 10 points.

The final push gave NDSU its second NCAA Tournament since jumping to Division I in 2006. As a No. 12 seed, the Bison defeated No. 5 seed Oklahoma in the 2014 NCAA Tournament. Regardless what happens against Zion Williamson and Duke, an NDSU team without any seniors has continued a March surge that began with its surprise run through the Summit League Tournament.

The Blue Devils will, however, need to game plan for a team that loves to shoot three, and does it well (37.0% team three-point percentage on the season). The Bison went nine-for-20 from deep in the First Four, and Ward said after the game that that could be the path to a monumental upset.

On the other end, the Eagles were within grasp of their first NCAA Tournament win in program history as they made their third consecutive trip to the First Four. NCCU found its offensive rhythm midway through the second half primarily behind senior wing Larry McKnight Jr. (20 points). Even as NDSU began to punch back, the Eagles seemed to plant a signature moment on the country.

With just over three minutes remaining, NCCU point guard Jordan Perkins zipped a pass through the North Dakota State defense to set up a backdoor dunk by McKnight Jr. to put the Eagles ahead 70-68.

A quick-twitch half jump from LeVelle Moton and erupting bench looked destined to be an image of the 2019 NCAA Tournament. It wasn’t to be, and the emotion poured out of Moton in the post game press conference as he talked about his feelings for the six seniors on his roster.

Two other seniors — Raasean Davis (20 points, 16 rebounds), Zacarry Douglas (14 points, 8 rebounds) — played big roles in addition to McKnight Jr. in what was essentially a six-man NCCU rotation. Despite the loss, the Eagles reasserted their dominance over the MEAC, winning the league tournament for the third straight season after finishing third in the regular season.