NDSU fans impress Bison, Jayhawks players
MINNEAPOLIS - The green and yellow contingent inside the Metrodome seemed huge to Kansas center Cole Aldrich.
"Everybody from the whole state of North Dakota was probably here," Aldrich said.
Not quite. But North Dakota State basketball fans definitely made their presence felt Friday during the Bison's 84-74 loss to the Jayhawks in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The announced crowd of 15,794 included an estimated 10,000 Bison fans, who filled the stands behind both baskets as well as large chunks of the seats on either side of the court.
It was the first thing Bison players noticed when they ran onto the floor for pregame warm-ups.
"That's something I will never forget in my entire life," Bison guard Ben Woodside said. "I remember walking out there and we were doing layup lines and I couldn't even hear my teammates who were standing right next to me. It was so loud."
It was probably the largest gathering of Bison basketball fans in the program's history. The NDSU media guide says estimated crowds of more than 8,000 have packed the Bison Sports Arena at least seven times. Seating has since been reconfigured to hold about 6,000. NDSU averaged 3,596 fans in 13 home games this season, with a high of 5,790 against South Dakota State in the home finale.
"That was special, very special to be a part of," Bison head coach Saul Phillips said. "To see a group of people rally behind a group of young men like that ... everything but the loss is storybook."
Fans were loudest when NDSU went on scoring binges. They came to their feet when Brett Winkelman hit a 3-pointer late in the first half to pull the Bison within four points at 38-34. They stood and roared again throughout the second half when Woodside drove to the basket to score or hit an outside jumper.
With Dayton and West Virginia fans also rooting for the underdog Bison, it was essentially a home game for NDSU. Yet the young Kansas team did not waver.
"How about them playing like that in a hostile environment?" Phillips said. "There is no way that environment wouldn't be deemed hostile. ... It was very, very much appreciated. I know these fans appreciate us a lot. I don't know if they comprehend how much they mean to us."
The Bison received one final salute when they ran off the court after the game ended. The fans gave them a thundering standing ovation.
"You have to give the community, the Fargo fans, credit. They came down and supported us well," Woodside said. "It's very fulfilling when you look up in the stands and all you see is green and yellow. And it definitely helped us. It is something myself and the rest of the team will never forget."