AP photo

How Taylor Braun developed into a winner at North Dakota State

Leave a comment
AP photo

All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here.

Taylor Braun nearly didn’t play Division I basketball.

The 6-foot-7 North Dakota State redshirt senior forward — and NBCSports.com’s pick for Summit League preseason Player of the Year — was days away from giving up his dream before NDSU head coach Saul Phillips came calling.

“He was three days away from committing to a Division II school in Oregon when we offered him,” Phillips recalled to NBCSports.com. “He was going on a visit and he was going to commit. And we came along and he just didn’t have a whole lot of other options in terms of Division I.”

Phillips acknowledges that the Dakotas aren’t exactly known as a hotbed of hoops talent but the Bison made a NCAA Tournament appearance in 2009 thanks to the play of redshirt senior guard Ben Woodside and a group of other seniors and players the program had taken a chance on and developed.

Now, with Braun leading a group of six seniors with all five starters returning, the Bison are the preseason favorite in the Summit League after losing in last season’s conference tournament championship game to South Dakota State. The long-term growth and development of Braun and those seniors — much like the previous tournament team at North Dakota State — is the main reason why.

“Fargo, North Dakota, isn’t the first place on your mind when you think, ‘Where am I going to go to play Division I basketball?’, Phillips said. “We’ve got to find kids that have something to prove, we have to find kids that have room to grow and we’ve been able to do that with Taylor probably being the poster boy for that progression.”

(CLICK HERE to read NBCSports.com’s Summit League Conference Preview)

The growth of Braun, from Division II player to a viable Summit League Player of the Year candidate, began with hard work and long summers in Fargo. A model of consistency, Braun has averaged 15.4 points per game in each of the last two seasons to go along with 5.2 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.5 steals per game last season.

AP photo

“At 6-foot-7, he’s very good off-the-dribble, he shoots it well, he’s an explosive finisher around the rim; he can hurt you in so many different ways. And the biggest thing is that as a kid he plays with a chip on his shoulder. He’s a tough-nosed kid and really sets the tone for the rest of our team in terms of his attitude,” Phillips said of Braun.

A first-team all-Summit selection as a sophomore and second team choice as a junior, Braun can shoot it from anywhere on floor, hitting 45 percent from the field and 43 percent from the three-point line as a junior; both numbers were slightly down from his tremendous sophomore campaign. Braun also broke his foot in January and missed 10 games and didn’t play as efficiently during his junior season.

Despite winning 24 games, and making the CBI, the Bison are still working towards a NCAA Tournament berth with this core group and the team stayed in Fargo for much of the summer working towards that goal. The time spent on campus helped an already tight-knit Bison team — which Braun described as “family-like” multiple times — grow even closer.

“One thing that’s good about here — and I guess a bad thing too, in some cases — is there’s not a lot to do here,” Braun said of the summer in Fargo. “Being up here, our main focus is to get in the gym, get better, get stronger and work to our goals. We’ve gone through this whole experience together. We stayed here all summer. We’re from all over the country and while the other kids on campus went home, we just had each other to hang out with and entertain ourselves. We definitely built some really strong bonds.”

(CLICK HERE to read through the rest of NBCSports.com’s feature stories)

Phillips and Braun both know he’ll be the focal point of an offense that includes senior big man Marshall Bjorkland — who shot a remarkable 67 percent from the field last year, second best in the country — and junior point guard Lawrence Alexander, who has started every game since he’s been on campus and acts as Phillips’ coach on the floor.

“It’s hard to believe he’s only a junior because (Lawrence) and I can finish each other’s sentences now,” Phillips said of his floor general.

Braun also worked on having the ball in his hands this summer with Ben Woodside, who — much like Braun — had minimal D-I interest, using a redshirt year and four seasons at North Dakota State to turn himself into a well-rounded college basketball player and dynamic scorer. Woodside ended his career with a 37-point performance in a NCAA Tournament loss to Kansas and is the school’s all-time leading scorer with 2,315 points.

The 5-foot-11 Woodside also won Summit League Player of the Year honors his senior season and has had a successful European pro career.

“It’s hard to push yourself sometimes. But working with him, he can go out there and kick your butt, so you have to make sure you go in prepared and focused and he doesn’t allow you to be complacent or get lazy or anything like that,” Braun said of working with Woodside. “He’s done a really good job of pushing me beyond my comfort zone, which really benefits me.”

The NCAA Tournament is the focus for an experienced Bison team after two consecutive seasons tasting the postseason in the CBI. In Braun’s last go, he’d like to go out on top as conference champions with a NCAA Tournament berth to add to his already impressive college basketball career resume.

“I think we have very high expectations coming into the year,” Braun said. “I think with last year and making it to the championship game and coming up short and returning everybody I think the goal is to get there again and win it this year.”

Ingram scores 15, leads No. 6 Duke past pesky Yale 80-61

Marshall Plumlee, Matt Jones, Amile Jefferson
AP Photo/Gerry Broome
Leave a comment

DURHAM, N.C. (AP) Freshman Brandon Ingram scored 15 points and played a key role in the defensive switch that helped No. 6 Duke beat Yale 80-61 on Wednesday night.

Matt Jones had 17 points and Grayson Allen scored 15 for the Blue Devils (5-1), while Ingram sparked Duke out of a lethargic start with his pressure as the front man after the switch to a 1-3-1 zone defense.

Freshman Luke Kennard finished with 12 points for the Blue Devils, who finally took control with a 17-2 run during a 5 1/2-minute span that bridged the halves. Duke outscored Yale 42-25 in the second half.

Justin Sears scored 19 points and Makai Mason had 13 points for the Bulldogs (3-2). The preseason favorites in the Ivy League led for all but 90 seconds of the first half but shot just 30 percent after the break.

The clear difference was Duke’s switch late in the first half to that zone defense with the 6-foot-9 Ingram out in front – where he could disrupt Yale’s ballhandlers, get his 7-3 wingspan into passing lanes and pester the perimeter shooters.

Yale, which shoots 40 percent from 3-point range, was just 4 of 15 in this one. Duke finished with 12 steals and forced 13 turnovers, turning them into 16 points.

That defensive pressure sparked the game-turning run, with the zone forcing turnovers on consecutive trips down court that Duke turned into transition buckets.

Ingram later took a steal coast to coast for a layup that gave the Blue Devils their first double-figure lead at 48-38 with 16:43 to play. Allen capped the decisive run with a layup on the next trip down court.

They eventually pulled away, pushing the lead into the 20s on a jumper with 2 1/2 minutes left by Amile Jefferson, who finished with 12 rebounds.

The lopsided final score was surprising because Duke was in trouble for virtually the entire first half. Yale routinely outworked the Blue Devils and generated easy baskets – none easier than Mason’s unimpeded drive across the lane for a layup that put the Bulldogs up 27-20 with 7 1/2 minutes left before the break.


VIDEO: Colorado player ejected for biting another player

Leave a comment

Colorado is playing Air Force tonight.

For some reason or another, Colorado’s Tory Miller got mad at Air Force’s Hayden Graham.

So he bit him.


At least he didn’t pretend that he teeth hurt after getting bit.

Miller, obviously, was ejected. Colorado ended up winning the game.