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North Dakota State withstands rally, knocks off North Carolina Central

North Carolina Central v North Dakota State

DAYTON, OHIO - MARCH 20: Vinnie Shahid #0 of the North Dakota State Bison drives to the basket during the second half against the North Carolina Central Eagles in the First Four of the 2019 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at UD Arena on March 20, 2019 in Dayton, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

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North Dakota State withstood a second-half rally to advance in the 2019 NCAA tournament with 78-74 First Four victory over North Carolina Central on Wednesday night in Dayton.

The Bison (19-15) led by 13 points early in the second half when North Carolina Central made a furious comeback to tie it up within minutes. The Eagles gained control of the lead and held a 66-61 advantage with 5:23 left before North Dakota State closed the game on a 17-8 run. North Carolina Central was held scoreless for over three minutes as the Bison made the game’s final push. North Dakota State earned its first NCAA tournament win since 2014 as they advance to face No. 1 overall seed Duke on Friday in Columbia.

Tyson Ward paced North Dakota State’s offense with 23 points and three assists while Vinnie Shahid (14 points), Sam Griesel (10 points) and Jared Samuelson (10 points) also finished in double-figures. The Bison shot 45 percent (9-for-20) from three-point range and only turned the ball over six times as they did a great job of staying disciplined on offense.

North Carolina Central (18-16) rallied behind strong efforts from big man Raasean Davis (20 points, 16 rebounds) and guard Larry McKnight Jr. (20 points) as the Eagles had four starters end in double-figures. Randy Miller Jr. (18 points) and Zacarry Douglas (14 points) also finished in double-figures for North Carolina Central as they were 9-for-21 from three-point range (42 percent).

Although the Eagles led the battle on the boards at 38-29 -- collecting 15 offensive rebounds to help them stay in the game -- the offensive drought ended up hurting them in the final minutes. North Carolina Central is now 0-4 in the NCAA tournament as they’ve lost in the First Four in three straight seasons.

North Dakota State earned its first NCAA tournament win since 2014 when they took down Oklahoma in overtime as a No. 12 seed. Winners of five straight games, the Bison have gotten hot at the right time, but they’ll be heavy underdogs against the No. 1 overall seed in the field on Friday.