North Dakota State (23-8) vs. Western Illinois (22-7)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Monday, March 11, 9:30 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Sioux Falls Arena (7,500) -- Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Television: FCS, Midco Sports. Home Record: NDSU 12-1, WIU 12-2. Away Record: NDSU 8-7, WIU 7-5. Neutral Record: NDSU 3-0, WIU 3-0. Conference Record: NDSU 12-4, WIU 13-3. Series Record: Western Illinois leads, 7-6.
GAME NOTES: The third-seeded North Dakota State Bison and the second-seeded Western Illinois Leathernecks will tangle on Monday night at Sioux Falls Arena in the Summit League Tournament semifinals.
The winner will advance to play either South Dakota State or IUPU-Fort Wayne in the championship game.
After winning its last two games of the regular season, NDSU got the tournament off on the right foot with a 69-58 win over UMKC in the quarterfinal round to improve to 23-8 on the season. It was the Bison's first Summit League Tournament win since claiming the championship in 2009.
Western Illinois earned a share of the Summit League's regular-season title with South Dakota State by going 13-3 in the league and it earned the No. 2 seed after losing out on the tie-breaker. The Leathernecks fought to the wire against South Dakota in their quarterfinal-round matchup, and they managed to hold on for the 54-53 win.
WIU swept the season series from NDSU, most recently winning on the road on Feb. 14, 49-36, to take a 7-6 lead in the all-time series.
After a low-scoring first half, NDSU found itself trailing UMKC, 22-19, but it was able to catch fire after the break by draining better than 62 percent of its field goal attempts to claim the 11-point victory. Sparking the win was a season-best performance from Taylor Braun, who tallied 27 points, seven rebounds and three steals while shooting 5-of-9 from the field and 16-of-18 from the free-throw line. Marshall Bjorklund logged a double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds, while Lawrence Alexander netted 14 points. For the season, not only do the Bison score 67.4 ppg on 47 percent field goal efficiency, but they play outstanding team defense as well, holding opponents to 38.3 percent shooting and only 55.5 ppg. Braun (15.4 ppg) missed 10 games in January and February with an injury and his return to the lineup has been invaluable. Bjorklund (11.9 ppg, 6.2 rpg) shoots the second-highest field goal percentage in the nation (.674), while Alexander (10.8 ppg), TrayVonn Wright (9.6 ppg, 5.8 rpg) and Mike Felt (8.4 ppg) give the squad plenty of depth.
The Leathernecks appeared to be on their way to an early exit in their first game of the tournament, as they trailed South Dakota by six points with under nine minutes to play, but they were able to rip off a 13-2 run to take a five- point lead, an advantage they would hold on to win narrowly. The team shot a respectable 44.2 percent from the field, but nearly cost itself with a poor showing at the foul line (11-of-22). Ceola Clark was the lone player to net in double figures with 21 points, doing so on 9-of-15 from the field. As usual, WIU played lock-down defense, holding USD to less than 37 percent from floor, and on the season its scoring defense (52.7 ppg) is the second-best in the nation, and it's a good thing too as the club scores a measly 59.8 ppg on average. Terrell Parks (12.7 ppg, 9.6 rpg, 2.5 bpg) is one of the league's best big men, but he has missed the last three games with an injury. In the event of his absence, Clark (12.6 ppg) will need to continue to step up his play.
The biggest factor in this matchup is whether or not Parks can suit up for WIU, as without him, NDSU has a clear advantage in the paint. Even if Parks can go, the Bison have a great chance at knocking off the Leathernecks, especially considering how well Braun is playing post-injury.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: North Dakota State 59, Western Illinois 58
03/11 10:33:05 ET