When Taylor Braun, Mike Felt and Jordan Aaberg arrived at NDSU, the basketball program had just made history. The 2009 ￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼basketball team was the first Bison team to reach the NCAA tournament and were an impossible act to follow, especially with four of the five starters graduating. Suddenly, the Bison were young and in the middle of an identity crisis. Five years later, their identity was found and the green and gold became recognizable to any college basketball fan across the nation. This isn’t just a story about a basketball team that found reasonable success within the Midwest. This is a story about a group of young men, bonded together by one goal and one dream — making the NCAA tournament.
Record: 11-18 (8-10)
Lost in Summit League Quarterfinals to Oral Roberts
Mike Felt, Taylor Braun and Jordan Aaberg were big time recruits that enrolled at NDSU in the fall of 2009. While Minnesota boys Felt and Aaberg made quick adjustments to the college game by playing as freshmen, Braun was red-shirted. Braun’s struggles during that first year have been well-documented, but at the time, no one thought his career would blossom the way it did.
Record: 14-15 (8-10)
Lost in Summit League Quarterfinals to Oral Roberts
Marshall Bjorklund and TrayVonn Wright joined the Bison as the only true freshmen on the roster. Both proved their worth by playing over 15 minutes a game. Wright brought unfathomable athleticism to the roster while Bjorklund became the anchor in the post. Braun also saw his first action in a Bison uniform and quickly got every fan excited about what could be a great career.
Stars on the Rise
Record: 17-14 (9-9)
Lost in Summit League Quarterfinals to Western Illinois
With a season together under their belt, the 2014 senior class began to mesh. The Bison finished the season over .500 for the first time since winning the Summit League in 2009. Lawrence Alexander was introduced and was quickly slotted as the starting point guard from the first game of the season. Alexander finished the season second on the team in scoring, including numerous clutch jumpers.
One Step Away
Record: 24-10 (12-4)
Lost in Summit League Championship to South Dakota State
The Bison found their stride during the 2012-13 season. They solidified a starting lineup with the arrival of defensive stud Kory Brown. Braun emerged as a star before an injury slowed down the Bison momentum during conference play. Braun returned before the Summit League tournament, but it wasn’t enough. The Bison were one step away from the title and guaranteed next year’s result would be in their favor.
A Team of Destiny
Record: 26-7 (12-2)
Summit League Champions
Lost in third round of NCAA Tournament to San Diego State
The Bison returned all five starters and eight of their top scorers from a season ago. The Bison rolled through conference play with a 12-2 record and winning the Summit League regular season title. But much, much more was in store…
SUMMIT LEAGUE TOURNAMENT
The semifinals of the Summit League playoffs weren’t anything more than a regular shootaround for the Bison. Splitting the series with Denver in the regular season, the Bison, coming off a first round bye, left no doubt who the better team was from the opening tip. Taylor Braun’s layup with a second left in the first half gave the Bison a 27-point lead after the first 20 minutes. They didn’t look back from there. Mike Felt hit a three to give the Bison their largest lead of the night at 43 with six minutes to go as the Bison set the cruise control and coasted to a 83-48 victory in the Summit League semifinals.
After the Denver win, the Bison were one step away from a bid into the NCAA Tournament. “I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again,” said head coach Saul Phillips. “This season has been like a storybook and it feels like the only way it ends right is with us cutting down the nets tomorrow.” And that’s exactly what they did as the Bison defeated IPFW for their first Summit League championship since 2009. The game was a hard fought battle until the very end, but it was a game the Bison knew they had to win. Carried by TrayVonn Wright and closed out with Taylor Braun, it was finally official — the Bison were headed back to the NCAA Tournament.
Summit League Champs
Hundreds of eager and ecstatic Bison fans stormed the court shortly after the final horn. Taylor Braun was awarded the Tournament MVP and was joined by TrayVonn Wright and Marshall Bjorklund on the all-tournament first team. It was a celebration Saul Phillips and Braun prophesied about a year prior and now they were living out their dream.
The Selection Show
“Out of the Summit League, the number 12 seed, the Bison of North Dakota State.”
-Bryant Gumbel on the 2014 NCAA Basketball Championship Selection Show
Five days after their celebration in Sioux Falls, S.D., the Bison returned to the BSA along with hundreds of fans for the Selection Show watch party. Laid back in comfortable couches, players and coaches waited intently for the Bison name to appear on a line. San Diego? Spokane? Orlando? Speculation filled the arena about where the Bison would land and where fans would be booking their flights. The first two regions were announced and still no word on where the automatic seed would land the Bison. The 1st, 16th, 8th and 9th seeds were selected in the West region, then the 5-12 match-up appeared. First, Oklahoma was announced then the Bison logo appeared, sending the team and its fans in a frenzy. The Bison were headed to Spokane, Wash., in a second round match-up against the Sooners of Oklahoma.
Becoming America’s Darling
In only its second NCAA Tournament game, the senior -laden Bison became an attractive upset pick in the second round. Lawrence Alexander took it upon himself to not let the bracketologist down, scoring a career-high 28 points in the Bison’s 80-75 overtime victory.
The Bison controlled the game early and held the lead until late foul trouble allowed the Sooners to climb back and go up 66-63 with 17 seconds left. Just as they did in the waning seconds of the Summit League championship game versus IPFW, the Bison put the ball in the hands of its best scorer. Taylor Braun was isolated at the top of the key as precious seconds ticked off the clock. Braun spun down the lane left, then pivoted right, but Oklahoma’s Isaiah Cousins was smothering the Summit League Player of the Year. Without hesitation, Braun kicked it out to the right wing, where junior point guard Alexander stood. With a hand in his face, Alexander launched a three that hung in the air for a lifetime. Buckets. The ball rattled through the hoop, sending the game into overtime.
With 77 seconds left in overtime, Bison leading scorer Braun fouled out and in came a freshman from Milwaukee. Casual Bison fans may not have been aware of Carlin Dupree’s skill-set before the tourney, but that night they left the arena never forgetting what transpired next. Dupree instantly ignited the Bison offense with clutch free throws and acrobatic layups. The Bison pulled away as the clock dwindled down announcing to everyone in America that Cinderella had arrived wearing the green and gold.
San Diego State
The End of a Magical Journey
America’s darling was the name thrown around the Internet and in casual conversation as the nation buzzed with excitement about the Bison. The two days that followed NDSU’s win over Oklahoma was arguably the most exposure Bison Athletics has ever received. From The New York Times to the Washington Post, America couldn’t get enough of Saul Phillips and his group of players that were “crashing the party.”
San Diego State awaited the Bison in the third round and with a stifling defense, the Aztecs were going to be the toughest match-up for the Bison of the season. The Aztecs have been shocked by Cinderella before. Last year, they were defeated in the third round by Florida Gulf Coast, or more commonly known as “Dunk City.” Aztec head coach Steve Fisher had his group ready for Cinderella this season.
The Bison shot the ball terribly, leading to their worst scoring total all season, 44. It was an emotional loss for Bison head coach Saul Phillips, whose passion infected his players, forming a bond that can only be created by a group of young men that were making a run of a lifetime in the NCAA tournament. The season had come to a close, but the memories of the 2014 Bison men’s basketball team will forever be the measuring stick for success for many years to come at NDSU.