GAME NOTES: Bragging rights are on the line, as the North Dakota State Bison takes on bitter rival North Dakota at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center.
The Bison improved to 2-2 on Wednesday with an 83-74 road win over Western Michigan. NDSU had previously lost two in a row to tough opponents in Saint Mary's-CA and Southern Miss. The Bison were selected as the overwhelming preseason favorite to win The Summit League, receiving 25 of a possible 28 first-place votes.
UND is sitting at the .500 mark after just two games. The team dismantled Minnesota Morris at home on Nov. 13, 110-69. However, it was on the other end of a lopsided score last Tuesday as it was defeated in a 103-85 final by Wisconsin. UND will head to Eugene, Oregon for the Global Sports Hardwood Classic following this in-state battle. The team added Green Bay transfer Cole Stefan on Wednesday when it was announced he was granted an NCAA waiver to compete immediately. UND is only one win away from reaching No. 1,500 in program history.
This will be the 286th meeting between these two long-time rivals. UND holds a 158-128 series lead after the Bison narrowed the gap with a 72-52 victory in the most recent encounter on Dec. 9, 2012.
NDSU has a star forward in senior Marshall Bjorklund, who is the active career NCAA leader in field goal percentage at 66.5 percent. The 6-foot-8 forward has converted 69.7 percent of his shots from the floor to net 14 points per game this season. Taylor Braun leads the Bison with 16 ppg, while TrayVonn Wright is averaging 13.5 points and 6.8 boards per tilt. Bjorklund has been able to get more open looks on the interior due to Mike Felter, who has knocked down 11 of his 14 tries from 3-point range. NDSU is scoring 77.5 ppg on 50.9 percent shooting from the field, while its opposition are putting up only 67.8 ppg on less than 46 percent efficiency.
Stefan will provide some support for senior Troy Huff, who poured in a career- high 37 points versus the Badgers last time out. The 85 points scored by UND were the second-most a Bo Ryan coached Wisconsin has allowed in his 13 seasons at the helm. Through two games, UND has a trio of players averaging 17 or more points per game and shooting better than 60 percent from the floor: Huff (27.5 ppg), Jaron Nash (17 ppg) and Aaron Anderson (17 ppg). Nash, who is in his first season with UND after transferring from Texas Tech, scored a career-high 19 points against Wisconsin. Senior guard Jamal Webb is off to a slow start with just two ppg. Webb averaged just under 10 points per game last season and is the program's all-time leader with 186 steals.
UND has the ability to run and gun with the Bison if they decide to play an uptempo game, but NDSU would be wise to slow things down and let Bjorklund's efficiency bury the hosts. Rebounding and turnovers will be key to the outcome. UND will need to get off to a fast start to force the Bison into a sense of urgency.
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