Looking at The Mid-Majority map, I've been duly impressed by the places writers have recapped games from. Entering the evening of December 22nd, 37 states had held a NCAA game featuring at least one member of the "other" 24 conferences, and one of us had been kind enough to attend and write about it here. This, of course is awesome. 13 states -- Delaware, Hawaii, Kansas, Nebraska, Idaho, North Dakota, Louisiana, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Maine, Hawaii, and Minnesota - remained eerily empty, bereft of a numerical orange spheroid demarcating our progress and mission. Personally, I'd love to see all those erased and a full fifty states successfully transcribed from -- alas, it appears I'll only be able to manage one.
Minnesota, my erstwhile home state, has only one D-1 school in college basketball; my alma mater's Golden Gophers have had some famous alums pass through, including Kevin McHale, Mychal Thompson, Voshon Lenard, and Bobby Jackson, but they're probably more (in)famous for scandals that eradicated postseason possibilities in the 1970s and 1980s, plus a glorious Final Four appearance in 1997. The 10-year-old in me will never forget beating Clemson in double overtime to go to the Elite Eight, nor the disbelief the 12-year-old me felt upon learning about Jan Gangelhoff -- apparently, that thrill had never happened.
During college, I followed "the U," as Minnesota is affectionately called by Twin Cities locals, through the tailspin of the Dan Monson years (congrats, Dan, on the re-genesis at LBSU, by the way) and the much-anticipated hoopla of Tubby Smith's arrival. Seeing the Gophers upset an Eric Gordon-led Indiana squad at the Big Ten Tourney on Blake Hoffharber's second-greatest career epic heave remains my favorite live sporting moment (full disclosure: I was a sousaphone player shamelessly using the perks of college to watch my favorite sport for free).
With all this in mind, I've continued to watch the Gophers from afar as I moved away from the "Land of Ten Thousand Lakes" to "The Land of Enchantment." Now living 150 miles from a D-1 campus, my in-person basketball watching in New Mexico optimistically consists of a trip annually to the Pit in Albuquerque to catch a Lobos game -- last year's takedown of BYU was sweet, if unrelated to the Red Line cause in any way. Heading home for the holidays, however, meant I could catch Goldy in action again, against the team I more-or-less adopted during college as my team below the Red Line: North Dakota State University. (Again, an aside: a good high school friend served as NDSU's team manager, and I watched a few games in the Fargo Dome during college.)
Anyone who's been to Fargo in the winter knows that the Coen brothers' movie doesn't do the place justice; frankly, one can't begin to feel just how despairingly cold the weather is out on the Great Plains till the first biting draft hits full in the face and remorselessly chokes the air out of the lungs. A D-1 infant, NDSU made its lone (thus far) March Madness appearance in its first year of eligibility out of the Badlands Conference in 2009 (#BisonFever all the way!), Ben Woodside's 37-point game against Sherron Collins a glorious footnote in pushing third-seeded Kansas to the wire.
That senior-laden squad's departure has left the Bison on tougher times, but heading into the game against the Gophers they sported an 8-2 record, with a solid mix of underclassmen and vets packing their best overall punch since 2009's glory. Every year, the Gophers take on the Bison and their southern neighbors from South Dakota State during non-conference season, pay-to-play affairs that cost Minnesota little and ostensibly help their western brethren out. NDSU's roster necessarily is riddled with Minnesota natives -- 6 on this year's squad -- and plenty of Fargo alumni have migrated southeast for employment reasons, so the crowd always has a healthy green mix among maroon and gold. The rivalry between Minnesota and North Dakota State has always been one-sided in basketball: 25-1 coming into the night's action. (Of course, Bison backers could take solace in beat-downs NDSU has administered on the gridiron the past two times the Gophers have "played" them in football. Apologies, Kyle, some of us enjoy football, for better or worse.)
After catching up on onetime collegiate activities -- drinking beer and eating burritos in Dinkytown, the U's primary undergrad neighborhood in Minneapolis -- my friend and I used our arcane U-Cards to procure student tickets and waltzed into Williams Arena during the under-16 TV timeout. The tardy arrival meant I missed NDSU's best four minutes of the night; a 9-2 lead ballooned to 14-2 and 19-9 at each of the next official stoppages, the Gophers' steadfast refusal to run a coherent offense severely inhibiting their scoring chances. Eventually, however, superior height and athleticism, along with a couple unexpected #superhoops from Maverick Ahanmisi, brought the maroon-and-gold faithful to their feet. Halftime found Minnesota up 32-29, and State appeared a bit beleaguered after their hot start.
Rather than go away, however, NDSU proved a worthy adversary. Minus their All-American candidate, Trevor Mbakwe, currently out for his senior season with a torn ACL, the Gophers lack a tenacity and star power they could assuredly use in games like these. Riding the hot shooting of sophomore Mike Felt (sporting a Bieber-esque floptop that seventh-grade me would have found an ideal haircut) and Taylor Braun's heady slashes to the hole, the Bison fought back from a nine-point deficit early in the second half to actually lead with less than four minutes to go.
However, at that point both teams decided that scoring would temporarily hibernate; Lawrence Alexander, a promising freshman guard for the Bison, wasted prime opportunities to put the Bison ahead with missed free throws and a #superhoop clang. The misfires bookended Minnesota finally getting the ball to a big -- Ralph Sampson III -- down low and giving the Gophers some breathing room. Free throws tidied up an anticlimactic finale, one bereft of a RLU glory; 63-59 was the final.
And with that, my NCAA recapping experience closed for 2011 -- now the Mid-Majority only has a dozen states to go. Here's to (someone) finishing them off in 2012!
at MINNESOTA 63, NORTH DAKOTA STATE 59 12/22/2011
NORTH DAKOTA STATE 8-3 (1-1) -- L. Alexander 5-17 1-4 11; T. Braun 5-8 3-4 13; M. Felt 3-8 0-0 9; M. Bjorklund 3-5 3-6 9; D. Hale 5-10 0-0 13; T. Wright 1-5 0-0 2; J. Aaberg 1-1 0-0 2; J. Lindberg 0-0 0-0 0; E. Carlson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-54 7-14 59. MINNESOTA 12-1 (0-0) -- R. Williams 5-7 3-8 14; M. Ahanmisi 4-4 3-5 13; R. Sampson III 4-8 7-8 15; A. Hollins 1-5 0-0 3; J. Welch 2-7 0-0 5; J. Coleman 0-2 0-0 0; A. Hollins 0-3 0-0 0; C. Armelin 3-6 0-0 7; O. Osenieks 0-1 0-0 0; E. Eliason 2-3 2-3 6; A. Ingram 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 21-46 15-24 63.
Three-point goals: NDST 6-22 (M. Felt 3-8; D. Hale 3-7; T. Wright 0-1; L. Alexander 0-6), MINN 6-14 (J. Welch 1-1; R. Williams 1-1; M. Ahanmisi 2-2; C. Armelin 1-2; A. Hollins 1-5; J. Coleman 0-1; A. Hollins 0-2); Rebounds: NDST 35 (T. Braun 11), MINN 27 (R. Williams 8); Assists: NDST 11 (L. Alexander 4), MINN 12 (M. Ahanmisi 3); Total Fouls -- NDST 21, MINN 13; Fouled Out: NDST-T. Wright; MINN-None.