Photos By Inertia Sports Media
The last time Dexter Werner took the court in March, he became an overnight NCAA Tournament sensation. The big man with more energy than a six-pack of Red Bull dropped 22 of the loudest points in the entire tournament in a loss to Gonzaga. There’s something about playing in March, with the season on the line that brings out Werner’s ability to get to the rim and cast up a variety of shots all with one thing in common – finding the bottom of the net.
“Just being aggressive and being quick, making quick moves and obviously I got some shots to fall so that got me going,” said Werner. The forward from Bismarck, N.D., finished with a double-double, leading all scorers with 18 points and adding 11 rebounds. Teammates A.J. Jacobson and Paul Miller also finished with double figures in the scoring column and the Bison kept their NCAA Tournament three-peat dream alive with a 60-45 quarterfinal win over IUPUI. “Pleased with our guys, we weren’t overly efficient offensively, especially in the first half, but our guys understand who we are and made winning plays,” said North Dakota State head coach Dave Richman.
Things were slow going early on for NDSU as they struggled from the field. The Bison finished the first half shooting 8-of-29 for a paltry 27.6 percent, including going 0-for-7 from beyond the three-point line. Despite the offensive struggles, the Bison held a 23-22 lead going into halftime on the strength of their shutdown defense. “When we have games like this where everyone is in a slump and can’t get anything to go in, it keeps us in the game and gives us a chance,” said senior guard Kory Brown. “Eventually, we’re going to knock down shots.”
After IUPUI started the second half on a 6-0 run, Werner found Paul Miller wide open in the corner for NDSU’s first three-pointer of the contest, cutting the Jaguars lead to 28-26. Several possessions later, after tying the game at 30-30, Jacobson knocked down another three to give NDSU the lead for good with 14:22 left. For his part, having missed much of February with a knee injury, Miller looked like his old self in the second half, shaking free of Jaguar defenders for several key shots during a 12-0 Bison run that pushed the lead to 38 -30 with 13:06 remaining.
Having Miller back in form was a critical factor for NDSU’s big second half. The Bison outscored the Jaguars 37-23 in the final 20 minutes. “It’s really big,” said Richman. “There are certain times we’ve been offensively challenged, to get Paul back and have a guy that can space the floor again, when Paul is out there and A.J. makes a couple like that, it opens things up a little bit too.” That space opened the floor up for Werner, who picked apart the Jaguars inside. “It’s March. It’s exciting. It’s tournament time and it’s basically, go big or go home,” Werner said of his performance under college basketball’s brightest lights in March.
With the win, the Bison advance to the conference semifinals for the fourth consecutive year to face No. 1 seed and regular season Summit League champion, Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne. The Mastodons won their quarterfinal game on Saturday, 86-70 over the University of South Dakota. NDSU and IPFW split their regular-season games with each team winning at home. “This time of year, it doesn’t matter what it looks like, what the percentages are, this time of year a win is a win” concluded Richman. “We’ve got to be pretty locked in to give ourselves a chance and I thought tonight that we were.”