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Dupree the Bison's unlikely hero

by Mike McFeely

Spokane, Wash.

Lawrence Alexander made the shot heard from Crosby to Hankinson, and maybe even New York to Los Angeles, but it was Carlin Dupree who became North Dakota State's secret weapon. It's pretty tough to be anything but secret when you've been buried on the bench prior to 1 minute, 17 seconds remaining in overtime.

North Dakota State basketball had The Shot, The Unlikely Hero and The Signature Victory all rolled into one glorious night in Spokane, Wash., and not Frisco, Texas. 

Lawrence Alexander rattles in a 3-pointer to tie the game against Oklahoma.

The Bison defeated Oklahoma 80-75 in overtime to steal its first victory in the NCAA men's basketball tournament, proving that for One Shining Moment it doesn't matter if your annual athletic department budget is $106 million (Oklahoma) or $17 million (NDSU).

How we got to Carlin Dupree, a true freshman who averaged 8 minutes per game this season, taking questions from the national media isn't so important, other than pointing out the Bison had a five-point lead with 4:54 left before allowing the Sooners to go on a 12-3 run. That made it 65-61 Okies with 38 seconds remaining.

Eventually, NDSU trailed 66-63. Enter Alexander's heroics. On a play drawn up for Taylor Braun to shoot a 3, Braun found himself stuck in traffic in the lane and kicked out a pass to the wing to Alexander. Lawrence proceeded to rise up above Oklahoma's Jordan Woodard and fire a line drive that rattled home to tie it at 66.

Alexander ended up on his backside after releasing the shot, but apparently never lost confidence. Braun heard Alexander let loose with a lyrical "buckets," meaning he knew it was going in, as soon as the ball was airborne.

"He's my point guard and he will be as long as I'm on this Earth," Bison coach Saul Phillips said. "I love him and he's a winner."

Alexander's shot will be the highlight played over and over until the Bison play again Saturday, but it took an escape act worthy of Houdini in the final 4 seconds just to get it to overtime. Oklahoma's Buddy Hield missed a 3-pointer, Woodard rebounded and missed a mid-range jumper and Isaiah Cousins swatted that rebound backward over his shoulder as the buzzer sounded. 

Three strikes and you're out.

"It's upsetting to miss them three three shots, but we were still pumped up to go into overtime," said Oklahoma's Ryan Spangler. "We gave ourselves a chance at the end and it didn't happen, so we go more time to do that."

The Sooners were doing just fine in the extra session, tied at 72-72, until the Bison caught a break and Braun fouled out. Say what? Yes, when Braun committed his fifth foul with 1:17 left it allowed Phillips to put Dupree into the game for the first time.

All the kid did was take over in his usual 234 miles per hour fashion. He went to the bucket breaking the Sooner press and was fouled by Woodard. Dupree stepped to the line and dropped a pair of free throws.

An Oklahoma miss led to the next Bison possession and again it was Dupree doing his thing. He drove the lane and flipped in a layup with 39 seconds left that gave  NDSU a 76-72 lead. It wasn't quite game, set and match but it was getting close.

Who couldn't see that coming? Carlin Dupree doing the hero thing.

"Carlin Dupree just ... played the loudest two minutes in the history of the NCAA basketball tournament," Phillips said. "I actually had gone to put Mike Felt in and then remembered, no, we better keep press-break first. First things first."

Carlin Dupree celebrates after the Bison victory.

Might be the brightest coaching decision Phillips has ever made.

"I thought, 'Carlin, go in there and pass and catch and get the ball to someone that was playing pretty well. Like Lawrence here. No, Carlin just smashed all over this. I'm telling you, that's a kid right there that had a lot of times this year when he had DNP (did not play), coach's decision by his name. And yet when it was really, really important, he had never lost the faith."

Actually, the only games in which Dupree did not play were the first four of the season when he had an elbow injury. But there were three games when he played 1 minute or less, two when he played 2 minutes and three when he played 3 minutes. Dupree played so infrequently, he probably didn't even wear out one pair of sneakers.

And, for the record, the boxscore from Thursday will record that Dupree played 1 minute.

"It's a young guy that stepped up at the moment and delivered. The two free throws there, not easy for a young guy to come into that situation and make two at that point and he did it," said Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger. "And he makes a little run around the baseline a little bit later, as well. So, yeah, it's a tough role to be in and he took full advantage of it."

Fargo hasn't embraced this team like it fell in love with the football program the last three years -- there were probably 250 Bison fans in the stands as opposed to the 20,000 who trekked to north Texas -- but come Friday, NDSU basketball is about to get a lot bigger. Now they are one of the Cinderella stories the TV networks and big newspapers love so much.

"Everybody on this team is just extremely excited right now," Braun said. "We're trying to soak in every moment of this. This doesn't come around to anybody every year or anything like that. We put in a lot of hard work in to get here and we're just trying to enjoy this and soak up every moment that we can."

As Joe Biden once famously whispered to the president: "This is a big &^%$(*& deal."

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