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Men’s Basketball: Bison hand ND third loss

Mike Monaco | Wednesday, December 11, 2013


Notre Dame tried everything to slow down North Dakota State.

Irish coach Mike Brey barked at the refs and beckoned the crowd as he ran up and down the sideline.

The Irish played man-to-man defense, then a 2-3 zone, then man again.

Even “Crazy Train” blared in the final two minutes.

But Notre Dame (7-3) could not stop the Bison (7-3) on Wednesday night, as North Dakota State came into Purcell Pavilion and earned a 73-69 win.

“I was very worried about this one and my worst fears came true,” Brey said.

Bison senior forward Marshall Bjorklund scored a season-high 26 points on 11-for-14 shooting, and the Irish could only muster 35.7 percent shooting from the field.

Bjorklund, who ranked second in the nation last season in field-goal percentage at 66.7 percent on 170-for-255 shooting, scored at will in the paint.

“We’ve got a really good post player,” Bison coach Saul Phillips said. “It’s hard for people to wrap their brains around it, but we’ve got a really good post player in Fargo, North Dakota. And he does that to a lot of people.”

Bjorklund notched 16 second-half points as the Bison seemingly countered every run by Notre Dame, who only led for 2:23 in the second half. The Irish tried double-teaming Bjorklund in the first half, but North Dakota State responded by shooting 5-for-7 from beyond the arc in the opening 20 minutes.

“Having shooters on our team, it really spreads out the court,” Bjorklund said. “I’m able to go one-on-one. I feel pretty confident in doing that no matter who’s playing defense. Early they kind of sent a few doubles and we hit some open guys around the perimeter.”

The Bison shot 58.3 percent from the field in the first half and Bjorklund missed just one shot.

“The big fella down low is a bear,” Brey said. “We doubled a little bit early in the game. They made threes. Then you’re trying to trade twos and keep up with them. At some point you’ve got to have an offensive spurt to kind of escape a team like that. We never really could get that.”

The Irish made just 10 field goals in each half and shot 9-for-29 from 3-point range. Junior forward Pat Connaughton notched a team-high 21 points but was 5-for-15 from deep. Senior guard Jerian Grant scored nine points at the free throw line but didn’t make a field goal.

“We didn’t hit some shots that we should have hit,” Connaughton said. “The bottom line is we shoot better than 35 percent usually.”

With Notre Dame trailing by three, Grant drove the lane and drew a foul with 41 seconds remaining. He went to the line and knocked down both free throws to cut the Bison lead to 67-66.

But on Notre Dame’s next possession, Grant was stripped by Bison senior guard Taylor Braun, who bounced a pass over to sophomore guard Kory Brown for an exclamation-point dunk which put North Dakota State up 71-66 with 17 seconds left and iced the win.

North Dakota State opened the game with efficient offense, drilling six of its first eight shots en route to a 15-12 lead at the 14:17 mark of the first half.

The Bison continued to carve up the Irish defense, extending their lead to 24-18 with 9:07 to go in the first half. Notre Dame responded as freshman guard Demetrius Jackson drained his third 3-pointer of the night to tie the game at 24. But North Dakota State kept driving on Notre Dame and carried a 39-37 lead into halftime.

“They started off hitting some shots which gets them confident,” Connaughton said. “And it showed throughout the game, near the end of the game, when they were hitting the tough shots.”

North Dakota State entered the game shooting 51.3 percent from the field for the season, tied for eighth in the nation. Notre Dame ranked 126th in the nation in defensive efficiency, per kenpom.com.

The Irish will look to get back in the win column when they square off with Indiana on Saturday in the Crossroads Classic in Indianapolis. The Hoosiers (8-2) have won back-to-back games over North Florida and Oakland, respectively, since falling to No. 2 Syracuse, 69-52, on Dec. 3. Indiana also lost against No. 9 Connecticut, 59-58, at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 22. Sophomore guard Yogi Ferrell and freshman forward Noah Vonleh lead Indiana in scoring at 16.4 and 12.8 points per game, respectively.

After battling the Hoosiers, Notre Dame will face No. 3 Ohio State (8-0) on Dec. 21 in Madison Square Garden.

“This is a long, long run right here,” Brey said. “It’s disappointing where we’re at, at 7-3. But you do have two huge games coming up that could make you feel a lot better about yourself. So you really can’t dwell on what’s happened to date.”

The Irish have only lost three games by Dec. 11 one other time (2011-12) in the past 10 seasons.

Notre Dame tips off against Indiana on Saturday at 3:15 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

Contact Mike Monaco at [email protected]