Satisfying weekend for UND men's basketball team
Weber State, most likely, made its final trip to The Betty on Saturday. And that's too bad.
The UND-Weber State games in the Big Sky Conference have been some of the more highly competitive and entertaining games the Hawks have had since their arrival in the league in 2012.
But UND is leaving the Big Sky for the Summit League next season. So, UND may have had a little extra in its tank for Weber's final scheduled trip to Grand Forks as the Hawks—in another solid outing—downed Weber 89-79 before 2,188 fans.
The win improved UND to 2-4 in the Big Sky and 6-11 overall while Weber dropped to 3-2 and 10-7. Also, it was UND's fifth win over the Wildcats in the teams' past six meetings—including last season's classic 93-89 overtime win that sent the Hawks to the NCAA Tournament.
"The past few years, we've developed a bit of a rivalry with them," said UND's Geno Crandall, who had one of his better career games with 25 points, nine rebounds, eight assists and only two turnovers in 39 minutes. "It kind of competes with the NDSU rivalry. But these games mean more because it's a conference game and last year we played them for a championship.
"It's one of those games that when you wake up, there is a little bit of a buzz about you. It's easier to get going."
After a slow start by both teams, the game's pace picked up in the second half. UND led 36-27 at the break, but the Wildcats—led by Jerrick Harding (22 points)—kept applying pressure throughout the final 20 minutes.
They closed the gap to 58-55 with 10:45 to go before Crandall sparked an 8-3 run over the next three minutes.
UND struggled at the free-throw line (16-for-30) but made enough down the stretch to hold on.
The Hawks broke an eight-game losing streak against Idaho State on Thursday night. And their performance against Weber was similar. UND shot well (54 percent overall and 52 percent on 3-pointers), committed only nine turnovers and defended well each time Weber threatened.
"Sometimes, you have to hit the bottom to start making your way forward," said UND coach Brian Jones. "It started with our urgency and energy on the defensive end. It fed into our offense."
And the Hawks received a huge lift from their bench as 6-foot-9 sophomore Kienan Walter scored 16 points, draining 3-of-4 three-point attempts. And sophomore guard Billy Brown was effective as well, hitting crucial free throws in the final minutes.
"Coach put me in the right spots and I hit a couple," said Walter. "I didn't shoot the ball well to start the season. I put a lot of work in and I hope to continue this."
UND again had balanced scoring as Cortez Seales added 15 points and Marlon Stewart 14.
Weber coach Randy Rahe said UND played with a purpose.
"It was all North Dakota today," said Rahe. "They were inspired and they had a great crowd. Their starting five is as good as any in the conference. They're as talented as any team in the conference."
Throughout UND's losing streak, Jones said he still believed his team was capable of playing much better.
"I'm happy and proud of our guys because they made huge strides this week," said Jones.