Bison comeback falls short in final home game
FARGO — It was not the way Paul Miller, A.J. Jacobson and Spencer Eliason wanted to end their last basketball game in the Scheels Center. And it was not the way North Dakota State’s men’s basketball team wanted to be playing heading into the last week of the regular season.
But it was the way Fort Wayne wanted to play, finally finding a way to win a road game with an 84-72 Summit League win before 3,348 fans who said good-bye to seniors like Miller and Jacobson, and Eliason , a junior who has opted to end his playing career.
“We knew this was going to be huge challenge,” said Fort Wayne head coach Jon Coffman. “Those two seniors (Miller and Jacobson) they have are unbelievable winners. You knew they would keep coming at us. There is no quit in that team.” Unfortunately, in what NDSU head coach David Richman describes as a microcosm of his team’s season, the Bison fell behind early, fought their way back but were unable to regain a lead. As a result, the Bison take a five-game conference losing streak next week with final games at Western Illinois and Omaha.
“Everything we want to accomplish is still ahead of us,” Richman said, referring to winning the Summit League tournament and advancing to the NCAA Tournament. “But we have to understand what we are not doing. If we don’t get some things figured out, it will be an early exit.”
Fort Wayne started the game off hot, making 5 of 7 3-pointers to take a 23-11 lead. But NDSU chipped away — first with a 10-2 run that cut the lead to 25-21.
With 3:20 remaining of the first half, AJ Jacobson’s 3-pointer made it 34-32. But Fort Wayne outscored the Bison 6-0 in the final three minutes to take a 40-32 halftime lead.
In the second half, Fort Wayne built a 67-55 lead with 6:55 remaining, but the Bison cut it to 67-64 — capped by Jared Samuelson’s 3-pointer and free throw. Then, Fort Wayne made it 75-64 before the Bison cut it to 75-70.
But with 1:05 remaining, John Knochar’s deep 3-pointer made it 78-70 and the Bison got no closer.
“We dug ourselves too big of hole,” said Miller, who along with his teammates and coaches had a long meeting in the locker room afterwards.
“The big thing we talked about is how much do you want it,” Miller said. “It’s little things like practice habits, energy on defense. But at some point, you have to stop talking about it and just go out and do it.
“That’s three straight losses where a tipped ball or a call here or there could make it a whole different ball game. But we can’t expect to get those breaks, we have to make our own breaks.”