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North Dakota State upsets Notre Dame 73-69

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press
Thursday, December 12, 2013 - 6:55 am

SOUTH BEND — Most college basketball fans probably aren't familiar with the name Marshall Bjorklund.

If the senior forward has more games like he had Wednesday night at Notre Dame, they'll find out about him soon enough.

Bjorklund scored 26 points, one off his career high, to lead North Dakota State to a road upset over the Fighting Irish, 73-69, in the third round of the Gotham Classic at Purcell Pavilion.

Bjorklund is third in the country in field-goal shooting percentage at 69.7. He's also the NCAA's active career leader in field-goal percentage and ranks fourth all-time at 66.7 percent, behind only Bill Walton, Lew Alcindor and Akeem Olajuwon.

Against Notre Dame, he hit 11 of 14 shots from the field, and had five rebounds and four assists.

“It's hard for people to wrap their brains around it, but we've got a really good post player in Fargo, North Dakota,” said Bison head coach Saul Phillips. “He does that to a lot of people. He played against (Cody) Zeller last year at Indiana and had a really good game.”

Lawrence Alexander added 16 points and 14 rebounds to help the Bison (7-3) earn their fifth straight win. Pat Connaughton scored 21 to lead Notre Dame (7-3).

Jerian Grant hit a pair of free throws to get the Irish within one point, 67-66, after Bjorklund fouled out with 42.1 seconds left, but Taylor Braun knocked down a pair from the line then stole the ball as the Irish pressed for a shot. He fed it ahead to Kory Brown, who slammed it in with 16 seconds left to seal the victory. Braun finished with 13 points.

“I really like this group,” Phillips said. “This will do wonders for us.”

Grant, Notre Dame's leading scorer at 19.8 points per game coming in, managed just nine points, all from the foul line. Grant was 0 of 5 from the field and only shot twice in the second half.

“I was very worried about this one, and my worst fears came true,” said Notre Dame coach Mike Brey. “They're a very good, old, experienced team. You've got to be better offensively to escape them.”

Connaughton scored a pair of breakaway baskets five minutes into the second half to give the Irish their first lead since 7:12 of the first half. The second, a one-handed slam after Garrick Sherman tipped the ball away from Bjorklund on the other end, brought the Notre Dame crowd to life for the first time since the opening tip and capped a 9-2 run.

After the Bison scored six straight get their lead back to three, Connaughton knocked down a three-pointer to tie it with 9:20 to go, but the Irish couldn't keep their momentum going.

Bjorklund responded with consecutive buckets down low as the Irish continued to fire, and miss, from the arc.

“We tried to sag in to start the game, but then they started hitting three's, so then we had to just give them space,” said Sherman, the main defender on Bjorklund. “When someone has six, seven, eight dribbles, it's tough to stop him when he can spin any way.”

Notre Dame's next four shots from the field after Connaughton's three were misses from deep, but Eric Atkins managed a traditional three-point play on a tough drive to the hoop with 6:21 to go to get Notre Dame back within one.

But North Dakota State kept feeding Bjorklund in the paint, and he continued to deliver, knocking down two more jump hooks in the lane to put the Bison back up by five points.

“That was their game plan, I guess, to (guard me) one-on-one, and that's a look that we like,” Bjorklund said. “When I'm able to go one-on-one, I feel pretty confident in doing that, no matter who's playing defense.”

Notre Dame countered by switching to a zone, and Tom Knight corralled a steal and blocked a Bjorklund shot on consecutive possessions.

Another Connaughton three-pointer at 2:11 cut the Bison lead back to two, but the Irish hit only 5 of 20 three-point attempts in the second half.

The Bison took a 39-37 lead into halftime after shooting 58 percent (14 for 24), including 71 percent from three-point range (5 of 7). Bjorklund, Alexander and Braun each had 10 points in the first half, while Notre Dame's Demetrius Jackson knocked down three three-pointers and scored 11.

Neither team led by more than six points all game.

“We thought we matched up pretty well with them,” Bjorklund said. “We have guys that have been through stuff like this, and we felt pretty good coming in.”