North Dakota State (16-5) at Denver (10-11)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, February 1, 6 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Magness Arena (7,200) -- Denver, Colorado. Television: None. Home Record: NDSU 7-1, Denver 5-4. Away Record: NDSU 8-4, Denver 4-5. Neutral Record: NDSU 1-0, Denver 1-2. Conference Record: NDSU 5-1, Denver 3-3. Series Record: North Dakota State leads, 3-1.
GAME NOTES: The North Dakota State Bison will attempt to keep pace at the top of the Summit League standings when they mix it up with the Denver Pioneers at Magness Arena on Saturday.
North Dakota State edged South Dakota on Thursday, 66-63, for its fifth straight victory. The Bison are now 5-1 in league play, which has them tied with IUPU-Fort Wayne, the only team to have beaten them in the conference, for first place in the Summit League standings. They are also 16-5 overall, with a home date against IUPUI next on the docket.
Denver had won three straight games before falling short on Thursday against South Dakota State (74-73). The loss dropped the Pioneers back below .500 overall (10-11) and to an even 3-3 in conference. They will close out this three-game homestand next Saturday against South Dakota.
This is Denver's first season in the Summit League, so this game is the first it has ever had against North Dakota State as a conference foe. In the four previous encounters as non-league opponents, the Bison have topped the Pioneers three times.
TrayVonn Wright scored a game-high 20 points and sank a pair of crucial free throws in the waning seconds to lift North Dakota State over South Dakota. The Bison only connected on 39.3 percent of their shots from the field in the win, but they forced more than twice as many turnovers (13) as they committed (six).
The struggles the Bison had on offense against South Dakota were a step back for a team that has been one of the best in terms of scoring efficiency this season. North Dakota State leads the country in field goal percentage (.510), while ranking second in the Summit League in scoring (79.1 ppg). Leading the way is Taylor Braun (18.6 ppg, 4.1 apg), who is much more than a scorer, as he produces well on the glass and in distributing the ball as well. However, scoring is his best skill, as he heads the conference in that category by nearly two ppg. Marshall Bjorklund (14.6 ppg), Wright (11.7 ppg, 5 rpg) and Lawrence Alexander (10.6 ppg) provide depth.
Denver clung to a 71-69 lead with 14 seconds to play, but a Jalen Love turnover was traded for a 3-pointer by South Dakota State, effectively sealing the Pioneers' fate. Chris Udofia scored 20 points as all five starters finished in double figures in the losing effort.
The Pioneers are not nearly as effective on offense as the Bison, as they are currently seventh in the conference in scoring (65.6 ppg) behind a 45.4 percent shooting effort. However, Denver has remained competitive in most contests by limiting its opponents to 63.2 ppg. Brett Olson (14.5 ppg, 3.6 apg) and Udofia (12.7 ppg, 3.8 apg) are a solid duo in the backcourt, with each scoring and passing with equal success. In fact, thanks to them, the Pioneers are second in the Summit League in assists (15.4 apg). However, there is not a long list of scorers for Olson and Udofia to get the ball to, with Love (9.4 ppg) serving as the best option.
North Dakota State has had no problem on the road this season, with eight wins in 12 trips. Although Denver has the homecourt advantage it won't matter as the Pioneers don't have the firepower needed to keep up with the Bison.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: North Dakota State 73, Denver 61
02/01 11:54:12 ET