As our little slice of the world was plunged into windy, white terror during the early part of yesterday evening and practically everything on any calendar was shuttered, there was one event that went on as planned. For the second time this season the Bison faced off against Missouri State. In the two and a half weeks since NDSU rolled into Springfield and got victory number one of the season, the teams have gone in different directions. The Bears flattened SDSU by 20 on Saturday before driving up to Fargo yesterday. Some may want to draw overly positive conclusions about the fact that the Bison managed to one up the Jacks but that brings us to the rematch.
NDSU was the better of the two teams over the first 15 - 17 minutes of play but that advantage never manifested itself into the kind of lead that would allow for the weathering of storms by the Bears and their star player Alize Johnson. During the second half AJ Jacobson was often tasked with trying to slow the pro prospect and in some respects was effective in his check job because Johnson and his 21 & 10 came very quietly. So quiet in fact that I wouldn't have thought he was MSU's high scorer, much less the high scorer of all. But maybe that's the greatest proof that he didn't draw scouts to frigid Fargo as a fluke.
But the contest wasn't all about Missouri State. There were a few proofs that this years Bison men's Basketball team may be better then I've repeatedly asserted.
1) During one of the better stretches of play for NDSU, Deng Geu made a pair of plays that few can and with a tantalizing level of ease. It's the second time that I can remember where he was the best player on the court for a spurt. The other time was last year against Xavier so maybe he just needs to face top tier competition more often. The next chance at that will come when they travel to Arizona in two week and then to a lesser extent against UNC Wilmington a few days later. The competition level won't reach those levels too often but more playing time may help him utilize his talent. Last night he got 10 minutes but his average is fractionally better then 15 per game and that's not a fluke, his usage has varied considerably over the last four games.
2) As I already mentioned, Jacobson being put on solo duty against a potential NBA draft pick with advantages in height, length and athleticism was a surprise. Defense is the foundation of the team's approach and as a fifth year senior leader he shouldn't be a liability but it deserves to be paid attention to whether he's put in that sort of role again. Not against a guy of those measurables, because I suspect that only Zona will have players equal to or greater then Johnson, but against conference foes - when the real season begins.
3) Redshirt Freshman guard Cameron Hunter may not have put up anything close to eye popping stats (6 points, 2 assists, 4 rebounds in 23 minutes) but he had the elusive IT factor. There was just something about his performance that was hard to miss, or easy to see, whichever side of the coin you like. Maybe it was a case of him just making the right plays, which is no faint praise for a young guy in a program that leans toward older players first.
So while the loss of the biggest non-conference match that the Bison will have this year is disappointing, there are positives to be taken from it. The three I came up with are a start but some of the "1700" fans in attendance could surely identify others. In fact, maybe that's a fourth. That even on a day like yesterday was in the hours leading up to tipoff, an impressive contingent of Bison faithful showed up at the SHAC and that's as good of a result as any that the scoreboard will show all year!