North Dakota State (16-3) at Western Illinois (14-4)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, January 19, 8 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Western Hall (5,139) -- Macomb, Illinois. Television: None. Home Record: NDSU 8-0, WIU 8-1. Away Record: NDSU 6-3, WIU 4-3. Neutral Record: NDSU 2-0, WIU 2-0. Conference Record: NDSU 7-0, WIU 6-1. Series Record: North Dakota State leads, 6-5.
GAME NOTES: The two best teams in the Summit League are set for a Saturday night showdown in Macomb, as the Western Illinois Leathernecks play host to the North Dakota State Bison.
At 16-3, NDSU's season has been nothing short of outstanding, and it is just one win shy of matching its total from the entire 2011-12 campaign. The Bison have been playing their best ball of late, as they have ripped off eight straight wins, and with a 78-40 win at IUPUI on Thursday, moved into sole possession of first place in the Summit League with a 7-0 mark.
Heading into Thursday's action, WIU was tied with NDSU atop the league standings at 6-0, but it fell back to second place following 59-53 home loss at the hands of South Dakota State. The loss for the Leathernecks halted an 11-game win streak, which was the longest for the program since joining Division I.
Although WIU won all three matchups against NDSU during the 2011-12 campaign, including a 58-53 decision in the first round of the Summit League Tournament, the Bison still cling to a 6-5 advantage in the all-time series.
NDSU had one of its most lopsided victories of the season on Thursday night by holding a commanding field goal shooting advantage over IUPUI, 57.4 percent to 31.1 percent. The Bison were also on fire from 3-point range, draining 12- of-23 from beyond the arc, with four of those coming from TrayVonn Wright on his way to 16 points. Lawrence Alexander (11 points) and Jordan Aaberg (10 points) were the only others to score in double figures, but all 11 players who took the floor scored in the win. On the season, NDSU has been outstanding at both the offensive (71.4 ppg) and defensive (56.5 ppg) ends of the floor, outshooting its opponents, 49.3 percent to 37.7 percent. The Bison will certainly miss top scorer Taylor Braun (15.2 ppg) while he sits out the next 4-6 weeks with a fractured foot, but they have plenty of talent to help pick up the slack. Marshall Bjorklund (12.9 ppg, 5.6 rpg) has been astoundingly efficient, ranking first in the nation in draining 72.4 percent of his field goal attempts. Alexander (10.5 ppg, 3.9 apg), Wright (9.7 ppg, 5.6 rpg) and Mike Felt (8.9 ppg) can expect increased opportunities in the coming weeks.
WIU fought hard against SDSU for the entire game, but with the score tied at the 3:13 mark of the second half, the Jackrabbits pulled away with a 9-3 run to close out the game and hand the Leathernecks a nine-point defeat. They shot a respectable 42.3 percent from the field, but they fell on the wrong side of the score by putting forth poor showings from 3-point range (5-of-18) and the foul line (4-of-13). WIU usually likes to slow the tempo, which is indicative of its great field goal percentage (.475) yet lackluster scoring offense (62.2 ppg). Making up for the sometimes-underachieving offense is a fantastic scoring defense, which ranks fourth in the nation in yielding just 52.6 ppg to it opponents. The squad is anchored by perhaps the Summit League's best big man in Terell Parks, who tallies 13.9 ppg along with league-highs in rebounding (9.4) and blocks (2.7). Ceola Clark records 11.4 ppg and 4.4 apg, but he's listed as questionable for this matchup with a sprained knee. In the event of his absence, the Leathernecks will look to Adam Link (9.9 ppg), Don McAvoy (7.9 ppg) and Jack Houpt (7.8 ppg) for increased production.
This matchup doesn't hold nearly the intrigue it would have if WIU won on Thursday and was still undefeated in league play, but it's bound to be a fantastic game regardless. WIU will certainly slow down the Bison's shooting attack in its home building, but in the end, NDSU will come up with a clutch basket down the stretch to hang on to first place.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: North Dakota State 64, Western Illinois 62
01/19 10:34:59 ET