Game #9-395: North Dakota State Bison at IPFW MastodonsFebruary 9, 2013 7:00 pm
Gates Sports Center
After Thursday night's special performance
, I decided to make a return trip to IPFW on Saturday night to see the Mastodons host the North Dakota State Bison. Actually, it wasn't quite a return trip, as the Memorial Coliseum (home to The Nate Wolters Show) was booked Saturday with both a high school wrestling tournament and the continuation of the Fort Wayne Boat Show. Because of that, the action moved across the street onto the IPFW Campus and the Hilliard Gates Sports Center. Hilliard Gates was a broadcasting pioneer in Fort Wayne, beginning a half-century long career in the city in 1940, when he took a shift at WOWO radio. After World War II, the 32-year old Gates became general manager and part owner of the new WKJG radio station, and five years later became the first person to appear live on Fort Wayne television on WKJG-TV.
Gates was best known for sports broadcasting, and he covered a wide array of events over the years. In the early days, he was the play-by-play man for the NBA's Fort Wayne Pistons until they moved to Detroit in 1957. He later broadcast the Rose Bowl, the Indianapolis 500, and Indiana University basketball. However, Hilliard Gates was best known as the voice of the Indiana High School Basketball State Finals, heading the first television broadcast of the finals in 1954, and continuing in that role well into the 1970s. That first championship game in 1954? Milan 32 Muncie Central 30 - the Milan Miracle, and the inspiration for Hoosiers. Of course, when Hoosiers filmed scenes of its championship game between Hickory and South Bend Central, it fittingly cast Hilliard Gates as the radio announcer for that contest. Local observers were quick to note that old Hilliard ad-libbed the name of Willie Long as the South Bend Central star, honoring through that mention one of Fort Wayne's best-ever high school players.
For his numerous contributions, Gates was nominated in each of twenty consecutive years for Indiana Sportscaster of the Year, and won the award seven times, meaning that he was robbed of the honor on approximately thirteen occasions. In 1969, he was honored as the first broadcaster to be inducted into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame. As I entered the IPFW on-campus gymnasium on this evening, I couldn't help but spend a few minutes thinking of the legend whose name graces the facility.
IPFW opened the game with a three-point shooting barrage. Converting on five of their first six shots from long distance over the first eight minutes of the game, the Mastodons jumped to 15-11 advantage. They later stretched the lead to 20-13 after consecutive baskets from Frank Gaines, which capped a 14-4 run for the home team. For the rest of the first half, the Bison tightened things up on the defensive end, yielding just five points over the final eight minutes of the first half. North Dakota State was patient, if not deliberate, on offense throughout the half, and further increased their time of possession with seven offensive rebounds in that first twenty minutes. With a late half scoring spree from sophomore guard Lawrence Alexander, and with a layup by junior big man Marshall Bjorklund, the Bison took a 26-25 lead at intermission.
The lead see-sawed several times in the early stages of the second half, until back-to-back three-pointers from NDSU's Brett VandenBergh and Mike Felt gave the Bison a five-point lead. Throughout the rest of the game, NDSU would be repeatedly threatened, and would be tied once more, but would never again trail. Over the last 10+ minutes of the game, the Bison never led by more than six points, but always made a play when they were in danger of losing the lead. After Luis Jacobo scored to cut the lead to one with 32 seconds to go, Felt knocked down two free tosses to stretch the lead back to three. When a Jacobo three-pointer missed, and VandenBergh was fouled on the rebound with five seconds left, the party appeared to be over. However, VandenBergh missed both of the resulting free throws. IPFW's Joe Crawford grabbed the rebound, but got in a bit too much of a hurry and ended up losing the ball out of bounds to seal the deal. One last free throw from Felt set the final margin at four.
Coming off a loss at Oakland two nights before, which caused the Bison to fall out of a first place tie in the Summit League standings, this was a nice bounce-back road win for NDSU. Their leading scorer, Taylor Braun, broke a bone in his right foot on January 12, and they went on to lose road games against the other three conference contenders (Western Illinois, South Dakota State, and Oakland) over the next few weeks. Braun is expected back near the end of the regular season, and if he's near 100% when the Summit League tournament gets underway, that event could be one of the highlights of Championship Week. Western Illinois has an absolutely suffocating defense, Oakland has a very potent offense that is starting to round into form, and South Dakota State has the best player in the league. However, with all of their pieces in place, North Dakota State could potentially have the most complete team of them all. They don't make many mistakes (only four turnovers in this win over IPFW), they are efficient offensively (Bjorklund's 69% FG percentage is among the nation's leaders), they rebound the ball well, and they showed me that they are capable of making winning plays when they need to do so. I won't be able to get to Sioux Falls, SD on March 9-12, but anyone who can get there for the semi-finals and finals will very likely see some highly competitive basketball games. Keep an eye on how that one turns out!
Call me a curmudgeon if you must, and recognize that you won't have been the first to do so if you do, but (with the exception of Butler's Blue II and Blue III) I am not a fan of mascots. I don't really need to have a human in costume running around and imploring me through over-ebullient motions to stand up and yell, and I've basically outgrown whatever charm these mascots are supposed to bring to the game. However, I must admit that I'm developing somewhat of a soft spot for Don the Mastodon. He performs typical mascot actions such as flag waving, guitar playing, and headlining the cheerleaders' dance routines, but he does so much more.
On this night, during a first half media timeout, Don challenged an IPFW student to a brief game of one-on-one, using this epic low post move to knock down a baby hook shot and earn a very respectable tie.
Don also made considerable efforts to circulate throughout the Gates Sports Center to shake hands, bump fists, give high fives, and pose for pictures. He even came up to the upper rows of my section to say hello. Don Mastodon, you sir, are a credit to mascots everywhere. Job well done!
NORTH DAKOTA STATE 58, at IPFW 54
NORTH DAKOTA STATE 19-6 (10-3) -- L. Alexander 8-17 1-2 20; M. Bjorklund 6-9 2-4 14; T. Wright 1-7 2-2 4; K. Brown 1-5 6-8 8; B. VandenBergh 1-3 0-2 3; M. Felt 2-6 3-4 9; C. Kading 0-0 0-0 0; N. Zastrow 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 19-47 14-22 58.
IPFW 10-16 (3-9) -- F. Gaines 6-10 3-4 16; L. Jacobo 4-10 3-4 14; M. Kibiloski 2-4 0-0 6; P. Bland 0-2 0-0 0; J. Edwards 1-1 0-0 2; I. McCray 3-4 0-0 9; J. Reed 0-3 2-4 2; M. Hines 1-3 3-4 5. Totals 17-37 11-16 54.
Three-point goals: NDST 6-18 (M. Felt 2-5; T. Wright 0-4; L. Alexander 3-5; K. Brown 0-1; B. VandenBergh 1-3), IPFW 9-16 (B. Gaines 1-4; L. Jacobo 3-4; M. Kibiloski 2-4; I. McCray 3-4); Rebounds: NDST 27 (M. Bjorklund 10), IPFW 23 (L. Jacobo 5); Assists: NDST 6 (L. Alexander 2), IPFW 11 (B. Gaines 3); Total Fouls -- NDST 14, IPFW 17; Fouled Out: NDST-None; IPFW-None.