Bison put up a fight in 86-76 loss to Gonzaga
SEATTLE (AP) — “Unorthodox” is one way to describe Dexter Werner’s game.
“Effective?” That works, too.
For a five-minute stretch Friday night, the whirling, baby-hook-shooting, 6-foot-6, 240-pound forward made anything seem possible — maybe even another opening-game win in the NCAA Tournament for North Dakota State.
In the end, his career-high 22 points weren’t enough. The Bison fell 86-76 to Gonzaga, but not before putting up a fight, and also catching a glimpse of their increasingly bright future.
“A unique matchup,” coach David Richman called his sophomore forward. “The wingspan surprises some people, and he’s really strong.”
Kyle Wiltjer had 23 points to lead the second-seeded Bulldogs (33-2) to a victory in their tournament opener for the seventh straight season.
It wasn’t easy.
With a hook shot here, a dribble drive there and a twisting, lean-in 17-footer to cap it all, Werner scored 11 points over five minutes midway through the second half to cut a 15-point deficit to six. He also took a charge in the midst of all that, and suddenly, the player who averaged eight points this season was taking over the game.
“All year, we have been built on trying to take 3s away, making teams take tough 2s,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “I think all of you would agree with me that those were pretty tough 2s.”
After cutting it to six, Werner bumped into Kevin Pangos (18 points) as he was shooting a 3. The shot fell and the four-point play bumped the lead to 10. The Bison (23-10) didn’t threaten again.
There was no repeat of last year, when North Dakota State upset Oklahoma as a 12 seed to open the tournament. Still, it was quite a season for a team that lost three starters and its head coach from last year and had to practice in a warehouse and lift weights in an out-of-commission supermarket while their facilities are being overhauled.
“I think (Richman has) done an amazing job for a first-year coach,” Few said. “The story where they don’t even have a gym to work out in and they’re working out in a warehouse and lifting weights in a meat locker or whatever they’ve got going there. And they ran some great stuff.”
Gonzaga plays Iowa on Sunday with a trip to the Sweet 16 at stake. The Bulldogs have been to the tournament for 17 straight years but haven’t been to the second weekend since 2009.
“Any time you get a win this time of year, you need to celebrate it,” Few said. “It’s a special, special happening. You never take it for granted. I sure never take it for granted and I make sure these guys don’t.”
Lawrence Alexander, who hit the tying 3-pointer to send last year’s game against Oklahoma into overtime, finished with 19 points for the Bison.
The senior played his last college game.
But the future looks to be in good hands with Werner in the mix.
“I’d pick him up any day,” Wiltjer said. “In a men’s league team, he’s going to be real good.”
North Dakota State: The renovation at the Bison’s facility in Fargo will cost about $50 million and should be complete before next season. ... Also scoring in double figures were Paul Miller (13) and Kory Brown (10).
Gonzaga: The Zags, who rank fifth in the country in assist-to-turnover ratio at 1.56, finished with 16 assists and nine turnovers.
North Dakota State’s season is over.
Gonzaga plays Iowa on Sunday.