UND MEN'S BASKETBALL: North Dakota advances with 79-76 win
OGDEN, Utah — UND coach Brian Jones wrote one statistic on the locker room grease board at halftime. It was Sacramento State’s 56 percent first-half field goal percentage.
“He wrote that percentage on the board and that’s all he had to do,” said UND’s Troy Huff.
UND tightened up a lackadaisical first-half defense in the final 20 minutes and received some gritty offensive plays from the team’s two senior leaders — Huff and Aaron Anderson — down the stretch as North Dakota beat Sacramento State 79-76 on Thursday in the quarterfinal round of the Big Sky Conference men’s basketball tournament.
UND advances to tonight’s semifinal round, now two wins away from the NCAA tournament. Tonight, UND will play Portland State in the semifinals. Portland State downed Montana, 70-63, in the day's final game. UND and Portland split their games this season.
“It wasn’t a pretty game but right now we’re not in a beauty contest,” said UND coach Brian Jones. “We’re about surviving and advancing. That’s it. And give our guys credit. They found ways to get defensive stops down the stretch.”
And that pretty much describes UND’s win.
UND came in as the No. 2 seed and Sacramento State No. 7, but the down-to-the-wire game was no surprise, considering the competitiveness the league showed this season.
But the game had a downside for UND. Josh Schuler, who played perhaps his best game of the season, went down with an apparent knee injury in the final second. He was tripped from behind as Sacramento State, trailing 77-76, needed to foul to stop the clock. Schuler couldn’t continue and Anderson went to the line and dropped in both free throws.
Sacramento State couldn’t get off a shot in the final second and UND improved to 16-15 overall.
Schuler was on crutches after the game. “It doesn’t look good,” said Jones.
There were 14 lead changes and the game was tied seven times as neither team could mount a game-changing run.
The big play came from Anderson, who drove the lane and dropped in a floater with 3:12 left — giving UND a 73-72 lead.
That was UND’s last basket. But North Dakota received enough free throws from Huff (18 points), Anderson (16) and Schuler (11) in the final two minutes to hold on.
And the Hornets missed a flurry of shots in the closing two minutes and had a couple of costly turnovers as well.
“Tip your hats to North Dakota; they played a little better when it mattered,” said Sacramento State coach Brian Katz.
UND’s defense in the first half, however, lagged. The Hornets maneuvered their way to the rim with relative ease. UND’s defense tightened in the second half, except for one stretch where the Hornets took a 58-51 lead with 13 minutes to go.
Another player rescued UND at that juncture. Alonzo Traylor (11 points) hit two key baskets that didn’t allow the Hornets to do further damage.
Traylor’s second basket cut Sacramento State’s lead to 60-55 and Anderson followed with a 3-pointer. UND was back in the game and it set up the tense finish.
“Offensively, we were fine,” said Huff. “Defensively, we weren’t focused in the first half. We didn’t play that hard on defense in the first half.”
Sacramento’s damage came from three players — Mikh McKinney (24 points), Dylan Garrity (18) and Cody Demps (15). But the Hornets managed only one basket in the final 3:53.
“We had a bunch of chances but we didn’t capitalize,” said McKinney. “That’s all I can say.”
Sacramento State led for the majority of the game, but UND’s seniors in the closing minutes made the difference.
“The first game is always the hardest,” said Anderson. “We stayed the course and that got us the win.”