GAME NOTES: Both the North Dakota State Bison and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish attempt to extend winning streaks on Wednesday night, as the teams get together at Purcell Pavilion as part of the Gotham Classic.
Since opening the season a disappointing 2-3, NDSU has caught fire with four straight wins to climb to 6-3. The Bison most recently faced Bryant on the road on Saturday and came away with a 66-62 victory to improve to 3-2 away from home.
Notre Dame, which began the season as a nationally-ranked team, has suffered early-season losses to Indiana State (83-70) and Iowa (98-93) to drop from the polls. Since their latest setback, however, the Irish have won back-to-back games over Delaware (80-75) and Bryant (70-59) to move to 7-2. They will face Ohio State at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 21 in the Gotham Classic showcase game.
This bout marks the first-ever meeting between these two programs, and in fact NDSU has never before played a member of the ACC.
After falling behind by five points at halftime of its latest game, NDSU used a strong second stanza to capture a five-point victory over Bryant. It shot a modest 43.3 percent from the field (including just 3-of-11 from 3-point range) and it committed a game-high 17 turnovers, but it earned extra possessions by claiming a dominant 44-28 edge in the rebounding battle. TrayVonn Wright picked up 18 points and eight rebounds in the victory, while Marshall Bjorklund and Taylor Braun netted 15 and 14 points, respectively. The Bison have been outstanding on offense this season, pouring in 79.7 points per game on 51.3 percent from the field, which is tied for eighth-best in the nation. Braun is the top threat with 16.6 points per game, while Bjorklund (14.0 ppg) is shooting just shy of 70 percent from the field. Wright brings 12.4 points and 5.8 rebounds per game to the table, while Mike Felt tallies 10.6 points per game off the bench.
The Irish fell behind Bryant late in the first half by four points, but finished the frame on an 18-2 run and cruised to victory after that. Even though they shot just 40 percent from the field, they managed to cash in on their free-throw attempts by making 20-of-26. Jerian Grant was outstanding with 23 points and nine assists to go with four steals and two blocks at the defensive end of the court. Garrick Sherman (14 points, 13 rebounds) and Pat Connaughton (17 points, 11 rebounds) both tallied double-doubles. On the season, Notre Dame boasts a +13.7 scoring margin with strong percentages from the field (.492), 3-point range (.418) and the foul line (.772). It's also in the black in terms of rebounding (+6.7) and turnovers (+3.0). Grant (19.8 ppg, 6.2 apg) has made 55 percent of his field goal attempts and is 17-of-39 from beyond the arc. Sherman (14.6 ppg, 7.4 rpg), Connaughton (13.1 ppg, 7.2 rpg) and Eric Atkins (12.4 ppg) round out a strong nucleus.
Both teams display balanced scoring in their respective lineups, but the Irish are simply the more talented team and should have no problem defending their home floor.
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