SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - They have overcome deficits before, but never in a game of this magnitude.
North Dakota State's men's basketball players, known for never wavering when behind, pulled off their biggest comeback in school history with a 64-62 win over Oakland University Tuesday night to win the Summit League Tournament championship and a berth to the NCAA Tournament.
Ben Woodside, one of four seniors who have been dreaming of this happening since NDSU was admitted to the league three years ago, hit a game-winning jump shot with four seconds remaining to fulfill a dream come true in the Sioux Falls Arena.
"I'm so full of emotion right now," Woodside said among a throng of Bison fans, his voice shaking. "It is a dream come true."
The dream looked like it was going to be shattered when the Bison, trailing by as many as 14 points, were still down 10 points, 60-50, with a little more than seven minutes remaining.
"It was hard to get traction," said Bison head coach Saul Phillips. "It did come to a point where you wondered 'how are we going to get this done?'"
Here is how the Bison got it done.
A goaltending call on a Brett Winkelman layup made it 60-52. Michael Tveidt, a junior who led the Bison with 21 points, drained a net-flipping 3-pointer to make it 60-55. Woodside's jumper from the key kept the Oakland lead at five points, 62-57.
Winkelman's 3-point play - in which he double-pumped 6-foot-11 Keith Benson into a foul - made it 62-59. Woodside's floating drive made it 62-61 and the crowd of 3,804 fans - mostly cheering for NDSU - were on their feet.
Finally, with 1:26 remaining, Tveidt drained his fourth 3-pointer to give the Bison a 64-62 lead - their first since 2-0 seconds into the game.
"It looked good all the way," said senior Mike Nelson, who had chased down a rebound before flipping the ball to Tveidt.
"I knew then that this was our game to win," said senior Lucas Moormann.
With 15 seconds remaining, Erik Kangas fed Benson inside for a slam dunk that tied the score, 64-64. With NDSU opting not to call a timeout, Woodside hit a jumper from the elbow. Woodside's point guard counterpart, Johnathon Jones fired up a shot from between the 3-point line and midcourt. It rimmed high off the rim.
"My heart stopped for a moment," Nelson said. "I thought Jones' shot was in."
While NDSU fans stormed the court, it was Oakland's hearts who were broken - unable to become the first No. 3 seed to beat a No. 1 seed in a Summit League championship game.
Oakland did about everything it could to win this game. They limited Woodside and Winkelman - the third-best scoring tandem in Division I averaging 42 points a game - to a combined 24 points. True to form in their nine-game winning streak coming into this game, Oakland's defense was frustrating the Bison.
"I was getting frustrated," said Winkelman, whose double-figure scoring streak of 42 games came to an end with only nine points.
Oakland's focus on Woodside and Winkelman did open things up for Tveidt, who made 8 of 11 field goals - including all four of his 3-pointers.
"We dominated them for 35 minutes but we didn't win it," said Oakland head coach Greg Kampe.
After Oakland shot 62 percent in the first half, the Bison defense settled in and limited Oakland to 30 percent shooting in the second half. According to Bison head coach Saul Phillips, that was the key to NDSU's win - especially holding Oakland scoreless on seven straight possessions until Benson's dunk with 15 seconds remaining.
"We let them get too many easy baskets in that first half," Nelson said. "Once we settled in, we finally got our confidence back."
The same kind of confidence NDSU had when it overcame a 14-point deficit in its Jan. 17 65-60 overtime win at Missouri-Kansas City and erasing an 11-point deficit in its Feb. 28 75-72 win at Oral Roberts.
"There is no comparison," Winkelman said when asked to compare those comebacks to Tuesday night's heroics. "This is just the best feeling ever. I've never felt such emotion like this in my life."
OU (22-12 overall): Hudson 7-9 2-2 16, Benson 6-8 0-0 12, Jones 7-15 0-0 15, Kangas 6-16 1-2 16, Maynard 0-1 0-0 0, Samuels 0-0 0-0 0, Cushingberry 1-4 1-2 3, Waterstradt 0-2 0-0 0. Totals: 27-55 (FG), 4-6 (FT).
NDSU (26-6 overall): Tveidt 8-11 1-1 21, Moormann 2-4 0-0 4, Woodside 6-17 2-2 15, Winkelman 3-9 3-3 9, Nelson 3-9 0-0 7, Flowers 2-5 2-4 6, Coleman 1-2 0-0 2, Vaughan 0-1 0-0 0, Sussenguth 0-2 0-0 0. Totals: 25-60 (FG), 8-10 (FT).
Halftime: OU 43, NDSU 33. 3-point goals: OU 4-15 (Jones 1-4, Kangas 3-8), NDSU 6-14 (Tveidt 4-4, Woodside 1-4, Nelson 1-2). Total fouls: OU 11, NDSU 10. Fouled out: None. Rebounds: OU 32 (Benson 13, Hudson 6), NDSU 33 (Winkelman 10, Nelson 5). Assists: OU 13 (Jones 6, Maynard 3), NDSU 12 (Woodside 5, Nelson 5). Steals: OU 5 (Kangas 3), NDSU 3 (Tveidt 1, Moormann 1, Vaughan 1). Turnovers: OU 8 (Benson 4), NDSU 8 (Tveidt 2, Winkelman 2). A-3,804.