FARGO, N.D. (AP) - Followers of North Dakota State’s men’s basketball team said Sunday’s viewing party for bracket selections in the NCAA tournament was more about respect than revelry.
The Bison received the highest seed for a Summit League team since 1997 when they were tabbed as the No. 12 team in the West Region and tapped to play No. 5 Oklahoma Thursday in the first game.
It’s what the players and fans gathered around the video board at the Bison Sports Arena expected.
“We would have been a little upset if we wouldn’t have got the 12th seed,” Bison senior center Marshall Bjorklund said. “I felt it was the right place for us. That 5-12 matchup every year, there’s always some upsets.”
The Bison (25-6) have a resume that includes wins over Notre Dame, Western Michigan and Delaware, as well as the Summit League’s regular season and tournament championships. Their No. 12 slot is two better than the 2009 NDSU team that was the school’s first representative in the tournament.
“I want to make some noise in this tournament and not just be a team that makes it there and gets crushed and goes home,” said senior Taylor Braun, the Summit player of the year.
The Bison players were seated in lounge chairs on the basketball floor to watch the selection show. They rose from their seats and raised their arms at the announcement, but the celebration was brief.
“Once we heard the news, it was kind of time to buckle down,” Bjorklund said. “We didn’t come this far just to lay down. We’re going to go out there and give our best shot.”
Oklahoma (23-9) ranks in the top 10 in the country in scoring. The Bison have prided themselves on defense.
“It will be a big challenge for us,” Braun said. “But like I said all year, we’re extremely confident in what we’re doing.”
Bison head coach Saul Phillips said he was happy with the No. 12 seed and called the NCAA tournament hoopla a humbling experience. He expects his players to find the right mix between enjoying the event and giving Oklahoma a run.
“We have guys who believe they can win against anybody,” Phillips said. “That’s a good place to be.”
Hundreds of fans turned out for the viewing party on a weekend that kicked off the start of spring break for NDSU students. One of those students, Cale Homuth, said he was happy to see the team rewarded for a banner year.
“Once I heard we were going to the big dance, it was a no brainer to get out here and support the guys,” Homuth said. “I am excited to get a plane ticket out there and watch them play.”
Leo Ringey, an executive with the NDSU Development Foundation, said NDSU has a strong alumni base in the state of Washington, where the game will be played. Ringey expects a strong turnout of fans.
“I think it will be great to play a big-time team like that,” Ringey said. “I think our guys believe if we play well, we’ve got a chance. It’s basketball. Anything can happen.”
Phillips noted that the distance between Fargo and Spokane, Wash., is nearly the same as the distance between Fargo and Frisco, Texas, where an estimated 10,000 Bison fans made the trip for NDSU’s victory in the Football Championship Subdivision title game in December.
“There are a few more mountains in the way,” Phillips said. “But it’s more scenic.”
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