ABERDEEN, S.D. (KELO) — The Northern State men’s basketball team returned to the top of the Northern Sun Conference, following a 19-3 season.
Northern State started the conference slate by winning eight of their first nine games. However, that was followed by a tough road sweep in Sioux Falls and Marshall, Minnesota.
“We went on the road and lost two to Southwest and Sioux Falls and it was a tough weekend. It was a chance to regroup and we did just that,” Northern State forward Jordan Belka said.
The Wolves responded with a 104-87 win over Minnesota State the next week, which was their highest offensive output of the year.
From there, they’d go on a roll, closing the year with ten straight wins.
“We really found our identity. It’s fun to watch our guys play. They play super well together and they share the ball unbelievably well,” Northern State head coach Saul Phillips said. “I’ve got a locker room full of unselfish kids, like I’ve had over the years that I’ve been here. It’s just kind of the Northern way.”
Northern State has been led by several players, including two seniors in guard Sam Masten and forward Jordan Belka.
“They are young men that get it. They don’t need to learn anymore life skills or lessons from me to be ready for the world,” Phillips said.
This season also saw a milestone for head coach, Saul Phillips, who won his 300th game.
“He’s definitely a players coach. The thing that I appreciate about coach is that he keeps the game fun,” Northern State guard Sam Masten said. “He does a good job of when things aren’t going well, he reminds us that we are still teammates. We only get to play college ball for so long and he does a good job of keeping that mindset within us. It’s a lot of fun to play for him.”
Now, the Wolves are in the midst of a six day break, ahead of their quarterfinal matchup in the NSIC Tournament.
“Making sure you’re staying sharp. Making sure you’re working on your skills and making sure you don’t get rusty, but also understanding that this is a tremendous opportunity, to get some rest. We can choose if we’re going to be healthy going into the tournament,” Phillips said.
This season marked Northern State’s fourth NSIC North crown in the last five seasons, but that achievement is just the beginning of Wolves overall goals.
“We accomplished our goal to go number one and win the regular season, but we’ve still got some more to go,” Belka said. “We’re going to go down to Sioux Falls and try to win that one. It’s going to be tough, the NSIC tournament is always tough.”
“You don’t come to Northern just to win a regular season championship. You come to win an NSIC postseason tournament and then obviously, a National Championship is something that has never been done here,” Masten said. “We have our goals still in front of us and there’s a lot of basketball to be played. Couldn’t be more excited to get out there with this group and try to make something special happen.”
The Wolves will meet Minot State in the NSIC Quarterfinals Saturday. Tip-off is set for 4:30 p.m. at the Sanford Pentagon.