A brief memory lapse provided North Dakota State senior Taylor Braun with all the motivation he needed Saturday.
In a postgame interview after Thursday’s loss against South Dakota State, UNO men’s basketball coach Derrin Hansen momentarily blanked on Braun’s name, who was voted the Summit League preseason player of the year.
The 6-foot-7 senior said NDSU coach Saul Phillips told him about the slip-up before the game, and he used it as motivation. Braun finished with 31 points, 13 rebounds and five assists to lead North Dakota State to a 75-59 win against the Mavericks in front of 2,276 at the Ralston Arena.
“Derrin is a really good coach, and I know for a fact he knew who (Braun) is,” Phillips said. “I said it kind of jokingly, but Taylor likes to stir the pot a little. He’s got a little devil on his shoulder some times. ... But today he looked like the best player in the league by far.”
Braun shot 12 for 16 from the floor to lead the Bison starting guard trio who finished with two-thirds of NDSU’s points. The biggest assets for the NDSU guards — Braun, 6-3 Lawrence Alexander and 6-4 Kory Brown — was their size. Justin Simmons is UNO’s tallest starting guard at 6-3.
“We matchup well with them,” Braun said. “Our shots weren’t as contested as they’ve always been, and we were hitting shots today.”
The Bison, who entered the game second in the nation in field-goal shooting at 50.5 percent, nearly matched their season average as they shot 49.2 percent. UNO shot 31.7 percent and was outrebounded 44-29 — another indication of NDSU’s height advantage, Hansen said.
UNO kept it close for the first half and led 28-27 before the Bison went on a 9-0 run. CJ Carter closed the half with three free throws as the Mavericks entered the break down five.
Even though the Mavericks were outshot 50 percent to 29 percent in the first half, Hansen said winning the turnover battle kept things close. NDSU committed eight turnovers before intermission that UNO converted into 10 points.
The Mavs cut the deficit to 40-38 three minutes into the second half, but then the wheels came off. UNO managed just two baskets in the next eight minutes during an 18-4 Bison run.
“North Dakota State was probably the last team, since we made the transition, that we’ve really competed with and had a chance to beat,” Hansen said. “To be within two when we were, I have to think we’ve made strides there.”
John Karhoff led UNO with 16 points while Carter added 12.
After setting a season-low for points for the second time in three days, Hansen said a lot of their offensive woes are tied to the size and skill of UNO’s opponents.
“I don’t know if we going to play two teams that have size in the front-line back-to-back like we just saw,” Hansen said. “Besides Iowa, (NDSU) is the best basketball team we’ve played.”