Since the season started, UND coach Brian Jones has been talking about his team being able to understand the process of college basketball—what it takes to win on a consistent basis.
With seven new faces on the UND roster, that's been his overriding message since Day 1.
That was the message again Tuesday night after UND downed Presentation College of Aberdeen, S.D., 82-75 at The Betty—a win that had bright moments and lackluster moments for the Fighting Hawks.
The Hawks improved to 4-3 while Presentation—an NAIA program—came in at 4-4.
"It's a lot of inconsistency," said UND junior center Conner Avants. "We had lapses on defense and that shouldn't happen. For stretches, we were sharp. But we need to string stops together. The second half didn't look very good."
UND was in control throughout. The Saints never seriously threatened but continually cut UND's one-time lead of 22 points with 12 minutes to play to seven in the closing seconds.
Avants led UND with a career-high 24 points, while Geno Crandall added 20 and true freshman Trey Buchanan 10.
"It goes back to being able to sustain our focus and effort throughout the game, whether our shots are falling or not," said Jones. "At times, we did great things defensively. In the second half, we really, really relaxed and let some of their guys get good looks. And give them credit, they hit some tough shots.
"Offensively, when we got away from our game plan, which was to get the ball inside, we missed a lot of shots. When we did our job, good things happened."
Presentation, led by guards Julius Jackson (32 points) and Deiontay Walters (22), didn't have a player taller than 6-foot-5.
And UND attacked inside early, as Avants scored consistently in the paint.
But UND drifted from that game plan at times, and Presentation managed to hang around.
UND was looking for the focus and effort the Hawks had Saturday against Utah Valley, an up-and-coming mid-major program. Utah Valley left The Betty with an 83-75 overtime win and the WAC school sat with a healthy RPI of 28 as of Monday afternoon.
UND shot 54 percent against Presentation but only 6-of-27 (22.2 percent) on 3-point attempts. And the smaller Saints outrebounded UND 38-36.
UND now has a week off before taking on No. 25 Creighton, coached by former UND assistant Greg McDermott.
"I keep saying it, but it's understanding the process for us," said Jones. "We have to keep having teaching moments with this group. I expect so much from this group. When they're focused and when they do their jobs, good things will happen for them."