South Bend, Ind. -- Confident, battle-tested, and likely in possession of the best college basketball player on either roster, visiting North Dakota State handled favored Notre Dame Wednesday night, leaving little argument that the Summit League hopeful Bisons were the superior squad as currently constructed.
Led by 6'8" 250-pound senior center Marshall Bjorklund, the Bisons played a focused 40 minutes of basketball and handed Notre Dame its second home loss of the non-conference season, a first for Mike Brey's Irish since December 2003 when Central Michigan and Indiana won inside the Joyce Center in back-to-back visits.
This time it was Bjorklund who inflicted the bulk of the Bisons' offensive damage.
"We've got a really good post player, so don't get too crazy," said North Dakota State head coach Saul Phillips of a potential interior defensive weakness found in the Irish. "It's hard for people to wrap their brains around it, but we have a really good post player in Fargo, North Dakota. He does that to a lot of people. He played against (Cody) Zeller last year at Indiana and had a really good game."
Bjorklund bludgeoned Irish post defenders Garrick Sherman and Tom Knight for the majority of the evening Wednesday, finishing at or within five feet of the rim on a variety of left-handed and right handed hook shots. He led all scorers with 26 points, hitting 11 of 14 shots from the field in 30 minutes before fouling out late.
Because his teammates started hot from beyond the arc, Bjorklund was able to operate inside with impunity, rarely facing a double-team defensively from the Irish.
"Yeah, that was their game plan I guess. That's a look that we like. We just try to take advantage of that," Bjorklund offered. "Having shooters on our team really spreads out the court. When I'm able to go one-on-one, I'm pretty confident in doing that no matter who's playing defense.
"Early on they kind of sent a few doubles and I hit some open guys around the perimeter. I've always felt comfortable down there."
The Bisons hit 5 of 7 three-point shots in the first half, missing each of their three-point offerings in the second stanza. Notre Dame conversely launched 29 three-point attempts, 20 in the second half, and at one point eight straight. 15 of their final 18 attempts were from beyond the arc (with one toeing the line).
"It really probably was because of how they guard," said Brey. "They really jam it in. We were going to have to make some shots over the top. They are really old fashioned…they don't worry about the three-point line as much. They jam it so much, it's almost like playing against a tight zone. you're going to have to make a couple of shots over the top of that thing to get into any kind of rhythm and I think the shots…29 threes? I bet 24 were probably good looks."
Junior Pat Connaughton hit five of 15 from beyond the arc to lead the Irish with 21 points, adding 6 rebounds on 8 of 21 shooting for the evening. Sherman scored 10 with 10 rebounds for his second straight -- and second career -- double-double, while freshman guard Demetrius Jackson added 11 including his team's first six points.
But it wasn't only a scuffling offense that felled the Irish Wednesday night.
"I don't know if our defensive intensity to start the game was as good as it needed to be," said Brey. "Then you have a good team get confident in your building. Our intensity got better (in the second half) but you had a team already feeling very good and in an offensive rhythm."
In addition to Bjorklund's dominance, junior point guard Lawrence Alexander had his way with the IRish on the glass, grabbing 14 rebounds as a 6'3" 180-pounder. Alexander added 16 points, never leaving the floor while senior forward Taylor Braun hit for 13 points for the visitors.
The impatient Irish missed 20 of 29 three-point offerings and hit just 20 of 56 shots overall (11 of 27 from inside the line). The Bisons finished 27 of 53 but were just 16 of 39 from the floor sans Bjorklund's remarkable shooting efforts inside.
"I was very worried about this one and my worst fears came true," said Brey. "You gotta be a little better offensively to escape them.
"We got another tough one Saturday. I just want us to be loose and play."
Notre Dame (7-3) will tip-off against Indiana (8-2) at 3:15 (ET) Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis as part of the third annual Crossroads Classic.