NDSU returned home around 3 a.m. on Wednesday, and apparently some of the players went to class not too many hours later. Such is the life of a student-athlete. I had SDSU pegged as at least an eight-point favorite and I still think if they played that game 10 times, the Jacks win eight.
That being said, NDSU is in an era where you just never want to bet against them. I never would have wanted to bet against Brock Jensen and those football teams that rarely lost, especially when the game got tight. Last year, I wasn’t going to bet against Taylor Braun, especially after his first comment the year before at the post-game press conference following the title game loss to SDSU was “we’re going to win it.” This year, I suppose I should have known better: don’t bet against Lawrence Alexander. The young man did it all year in the late going, although his missed bonus free throw with 7.9 seconds left opened the door for a possible Jack game winner. L.A. went 6 of 9 from 3-point range in one of the most clutch big-game performances in the history of the program.
The coaches and administrators keep talking about the “culture of Bison athletics” and although it’s hard to turn that into tangible evidence, there is no arguing that intangible. NDSU is winning football and basketball titles these days because they have found a group of guys who believe in their teammates and coaches. One colleague asked me if NDSU has a sports psychologist on staff because it is seemingly always winning the close game. To steal a thought from a column by Pat Reusse of the Star-Tribune last week, most basketball games are generally close games and the teams that win generally have winners and the teams that consistently lose can always point to a play here or there, but ultimately they are losers (his reference to the Gophers).
This Bison team lost two players who are playing professionally in Europe and one of the program’s best centers ever. NDSU probably had the worst depth in the Summit and have two freshmen playing prominent roles. This team had no business repeating its NCAA tournament berth. But this team also did not lose that hard-to-explain intangible called a winning culture.