North Dakota State is headed back to the NCAA Tournament.
In a championship matchup of North Dakota’s two Division I teams, the Bison resoundingly punched their ticket to the Big Dance with an 89-53 win over North Dakota. And on primary night in the Roughrider State, the winner was clear on the basketball court after the earliest of exit polls.
The Bison jumped out to a 13-0 lead, holding the Fighting Hawks without a field goal until the 13:06 mark in the first half. In total, an offensively dominant opening period saw NDSU go to the locker room with a 27-point lead. UND could not contain Vinnie Shahid, as the all-league first team guard scored 16 first half points on 4-7 shooting (6-6 FT).
The Fighting Hawks were not able to chip away at the lead in any meaningful way in the second half, and the 36-point margin of the victory was the largest in Summit League championship game history. It surpassed the 33-point win Valparaiso posted over IUPUI in 2002.
Shahid finished with 25 points, while fellow senior Tyson Ward was dominant against UND’s frontline (23 points, 13 rebounds). The duo leading the way to a title game win was shades of 2019, when the pair led the Bison in scoring as they pushed past Omaha in a closer, 10-point win.
The Sioux Falls triumph marks the second time NDSU has gone to the NCAA Tournament in back-to-back years. Previously, the Bison grabbed the Summit’s bid in Saul Phillips’ final year (2014) and then defended their crown under then-first-year coach Dave Richman the following season. In total, the program has gone to five NCAA Tournaments in just 15 years as a Division I program.
The No. 1 seed ultimately prevailed in a tournament that saw chaos on the other side of the bracket. The No. 2 and No. 3 seeds were dispatched in the quarterfinals as Fort Wayne knocked out second-seeded South Dakota State and UND dumped third-seeded South Dakota.
For the Fighting Hawks, it’s quite an accomplishment to have reached the final in just their second year in the conference. Pending a postseason invite, they’ll finish 15-18 in Paul Sather’s first year in charge in Grand Forks.
NDSU (25-8, 13-3, #126 KenPom) now awaits its NCAA Tournament fate, surely hoping to avoid the 16-seed line the Bison were placed on a year ago when their overall profile (19-16, 907, #202 KenPom) was less robust than it is this time around.