Mastodons challenge Bison in Summit League title game

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Updated: 3/12 2:58 pm

Sioux Falls, SD (SportsNetwork.com) - The Summit League Tournament has gone by way of the chalk thus far, leaving the top-seeded North Dakota State Bison to battle the second-seeded IUPU-Fort Wayne Mastodons in the title tilt with an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament on the line.

IPFW began tournament action with a 85-47 rout of last-place IUPUI and followed that up with a 64-60 triumph versus South Dakota State in the semifinals. The Mastodons, who's 24 wins are a school record, have never been crowned Summit League champions during their seven seasons as a member.

After earning an opening-round bye as the regular-season champs, NDSU began its tournament stay in the semifinals by dismantling fourth-seeded Denver, 83-48, at it moved to 24-6 with its eighth straight victory. The Bison's only previous Summit League Tournament championship came in 2009, a year in which they also won the regular-season title.

One of NDSU's two league losses came at IPFW on Jan. 9, 82-71, but it redeemed itself with a 69-58 triumph at home on Feb. 8. The Bison lead the all-time series, 10-8.

The Mastodons trailed SDSU midway through the second half in the earlier round, but used an 8-0 run to surge ahead and held on to a slim advantage down the stretch. Although they were outshot from the field, .449 to .407, they scored 22 points off of 18 SDSU turnovers and outscored their opponent from 3- point range, 21-12. Mo Evans was especially deadly from beyond the arc (6- of-7) on his way to 18 points, Pierre Bland poured in 12 points and Steve Forbes tallied 10 points and eight rebounds. IPFW has enjoyed an impressive offensive attack this season, shooting greater than 49 percent from the field for 76.5 ppg, which has been good enough to support a rather modest defensive effort (69.6 ppg). The team's 3-point prowess has been prevalent all season as well, knocking down just shy of eight long-range buckets per outing at nearly 40 percent efficiency. Luis Jacobo is the top performer with 14.8 ppg. Forbes (12.2 ppg) and Evans (10.0 ppg) are also double-digit scorers, while Bland, Joe Reed and Joe Edwards all put up at least 8.0 ppg.

The Bison dominated from the very start of their semifinal-round contest, as they opened up a commanding 42-15 lead at the half before eventually cruising to the 35-point blowout win. The team was lights-out from the field, connecting on 62.5 percent of its field goal tries, including 8-of-12 from beyond the arc. Taylor Braun was the pace setter with 28 points, shooting 7- of-9 from the field (4-of-5 from 3-point range) and 10-of-12 at the foul line. TrayVonn Wright tallied 12 points and nine rebounds, and eight players registered more than two field goals in the balanced effort. NDSU's offensive efficiency has been its calling card all season long, as it pours in 76.9 ppg while owning the nation's best field goal percentage (.513). Its defensive pressure has been stellar too, yielding only 65.6 ppg. Not only does Braun score a team-high 18.3 ppg, but he's a multi-faceted performer with 5.4 rpg, 3.9 apg and 1.7 all while shooting 49.7 percent from the field. Marshall Bjorklund (13.4 ppg) ranks sixth nationally in field goal percentage (.637), and Wright (11.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 1.8 bpg) and Lawrence Alexander (11.1 ppg) are also having stellar campaigns.

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