"[North Dakota State] played very well. Give them credit," head coach Andy Enfield said. "It was a grind-it-out game, but we'll take it and move on."
Junior forward Bennie Boatwright led the Trojans with 28 points and eight rebounds. Junior Chimezie Metu, who plays the same position, also contributed with 14 points and seven rebounds. Senior guard Jordan McLaughlin, who came on strong late, finished with 12 points and four assists.
"Bennie is in much better shape this year," Enfield said. "If you look at his explosiveness and his quickness, it's much better. He's a great player."
In the first half, the Trojans fell behind by as many as 10 points to the Bison. They committed nine turnovers and shot just 37 percent from the field in the opening 20 minutes. The Trojans also made only eight of their first 15 free throw attempts. In the final two minutes of the half, however, the Trojans turned a 10-point deficit into a tie game. Boatwright converted a four-point play and made a layup, and McLaughlin made two layups, including one at the buzzer to tie the game.
In the second half, the Trojans came out on the attack. Two dunks from Metu, one of them an alley-oop, gave the Trojans a fast start. The Bison, however, wouldn't slow down, especially with their three-point shooting (35 percent).
"They were a well-paced offense and it was hard to rush them in the half court setting," McLaughlin said. "We just tried to contain them for most of the shot clock. Sometimes we did, sometimes we didn't."
After the Trojans opened up a 48-43 lead with 13 minutes to go, the Bison came back with another three-point play. Before the Trojans could blink their eyes, they were down 56-51.
But with a new mindset, the Trojans managed to really turn things around in the second half, improving their shooting percentage to over 53 percent. Although their three-point shooting did not improve, their free throw shooting did, as they made key shots down the stretch to put the game away.
"We're always trying to push the ball, but sometimes a push isn't always the best thing,' McLaughlin said. "Sometimes the best thing to do is slow it down, and that's what we did when it mattered."
"We started off slow with 11-30 in the first half," Enfield said, "But we finished off 5-6. And that was huge for us."
While the Trojans did get the win tonight, they lost sophomore center Nick Rakocevic to a sprained ankle early in the first half. Enfield says he will likely be held out a few days.
Now at 2-0, the Trojans will travel to Nashville for a matchup with Vanderbilt on Sunday at 5:00 p.m.