MEN'S BASKETBALL: UND turns the tables; upends Montana for key Big Sky win
UND and Montana came into the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center in desperation mode. UND let a home win slip away two days earlier. Montana — the perennial Big Sky Conference power — lost an overtime decision at Northern Colorado, a loss that surprisingly sunk the Griz farther down the league standings.
“It doesn’t matter how you win at this time of the year,” said UND coach Brian Jones. “You can win pretty or you can win ugly. You just have to find ways to win.”
Well, UND can categorize Saturday’s 74-69 win over the Griz before 2,033 fans simply solid and necessary. UND turned the tables from its Thursday loss against Montana State with a performance that kept the Green and White in the hunt for one of the seven spots in next month’s Big Sky postseason tournament.
UND improved to 8-6 in the Big Sky and 11-13 overall while Montana dropped to 7-7 and 12-11. Outside of front-running Weber State, the next nine teams in the Big Sky all have legitimate chances of making the league tournament. Slip-ups at this time of the year — especially at home — are nearly unforgivable.
“We couldn’t let this one slip away,” said UND’s Troy Huff, who finished with 18 points. “You just can’t have two losses at home.”
UND led most of the game and held a 71-57 advantage with just over four minutes to play. But the Griz — led by Kareem Jamar’s 18 points — made a final charge and closed that deficit to four points in the waning seconds.
North Dakota did enough down the stretch to hold on.
UND led by 11 points early before the Griz threw a zone defense at UND. The switch helped lead Montana to a 16-1 run and a 27-23 lead. The zone defense, like it did in UND’s loss Thursday to Montana State, had North Dakota flustered.
The game, however, changed when UND started to get the ball inside to 6-foot-8 Jaron Nash. The senior forward took over in the final 6½ minutes of the first half, scoring 11 of his game-high 19 points to help UND take a 38-33 lead at the break.
“He’s a four (power forward) with the speed of a two (shooting) guard,” said. Huff. “He’s a tough matchup in there.”
Montana coach Wayne Tinkle agreed.
“He really caused us some problems,” said Tinkle. “He got to the rim and got some put-backs. And they got in transition a few times during that stretch, too.”
Montana couldn’t make a game-changing run in the second half, despite shooting 55 percent from the field and holding a 30-27 rebounding advantage.
The surprising statistic was turnovers. Montana turned the ball over 17 times, leading to 21 UND points.
“You can’t defend 21 points off of turnovers,” said Tinkle. “We’re tops in the country in turnovers per game. We average less than 10. That was really a surprise that we played that soft.”
Unlike its game against Montana State, UND was solid, not soft. Nash’s play energized UND when it looked as if the Griz were about to take control.
“A lot of teams don’t like to go man against us,” said Nash. “Against their zone, I felt I had to use my quickness inside and find the open shots.”
Now, UND has to find a way to win on the road to keep pace in the league race. UND is at Sacramento State on Thursday and at Northern Arizona on Saturday.
“We were dialed in for this one,” said Jones. “Our guys came in with the mindset that they had to be tough.”