Western Illinois (18-5) at North Dakota State (19-6)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Thursday, February 14, 8 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Bison Sports Arena (6,000) -- Fargo, North Dakota. Television: None. Home Record: WIU 10-1, NDSU 10-0. Away Record: WIU 6-4, NDSU 7-6. Neutral Record: WIU 2-0, NDSU 2-0. Conference Record: WIU 10-2, NDSU 10-3. Series Record: Series is tied, 6-6.
GAME NOTES: With first place in the Summit League on the line, the Western Illinois Leatherneck and the North Dakota State Bison meet up on Thursday night at Bison Sports Arena.
WIU has won four of its last five games to climb to 18-5 overall, and it sits alone in first place with a 10-2 league mark. The Leathernecks hosted Nebraska-Omaha on Feb. 7 and came away with a 68-50 triumph, and they now head back on the road where they've been red-hot of late, winning six of their last seven games away from Macomb.
NDSU is also in the midst of an outstanding season at 19-6 overall, and at 10-3 in the Summit League it is just a half game behind WIU for first place. The Bison suffered a road setback on Feb. 7 against Oakland, but they bounced back with a 58-54 triumph at IUPU-Fort Wayne last Saturday. They return to Fargo for this matchup, where they've been one of the nation's best home teams this season (10-0).
WIU has won four straight over NDSU, including a 50-42 decision in Macomb on Jan. 19, to pull the all-time series even at 6-6.
The Leathernecks opened up a commanding 35-15 lead at the half against Omaha and cruised from that point on en route to an 18-point victory. It was a complete effort for Western Illinois, as it shot nearly 50 percent from the field while holding the Mavericks to less than 34 percent. Terell Parks was a beast in the paint with 12 points (on 6-of-7 from the field), 16 rebounds and two blocks, Adam Link also scored 12 points, and Don McAvoy netted 11 coming off the bench. WIU's offensive attack this season has been modest at best, as it puts up only 61.3 ppg, but it has one of the nation's strongest scoring defenses, which ranks third in Division I in yielding a mere 52.4 ppg. Parks is an elite big man by Summit League standards, scoring 12.8 ppg on 57 percent shooting from the field, while adding 9.5 rpg, 2.7 bpg and 1.0 spg. Ceola Clark has been impressive out on the perimeter, draining 49-of-117 from 3- point range (.419) for 11.5 ppg, while handing out 95 assists compared to only 37 turnovers.
NDSU struggled early against IPFW, even trailing midway through the second half, but it was able to take control down the stretch on its way to the four- point road victory. The Bison were fortunate to escape with the win, as they put together sub par outings from the field (.404) and the foul line (.636), although they were able to keep their mistakes to a minimum with only five turnovers. Lawrence Alexander led the way in the triumph with 20 points, while Marshall Bjorklund tallied 14 points and 10 rebounds. Much like WIU, NDSU sports an outstanding scoring defense, yielding fewer than 56 ppg, but unlike the Leathernecks, it boasts a strong offensive attack, shooting 48.1 percent from the field for 68.4 ppg. With top scorer Taylor Braun (15.2 ppg) out with an injury, Bjorklund (12.1 ppg, 6.3 rpg, .695 FG percentage) and Alexander (10.7 ppg, 4.0 apg) are now the team's go-to guys, while TrayVonn Wright (9.9 ppg, 5.8 rpg) and Mike Felt (9.0 ppg) are also crucial components.
With league bragging rights on the line, each team is sure to leave everything on the court in this one. WIU has been solid on the road, but it has yet to face a conference foe this strong on its own floor. NDSU has yet to slip up in Fargo, and it will find a way to win this bout, and overtake the Leathernecks in the standings.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: North Dakota State 63, Western Illinois 60
02/14 10:32:52 ET