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MEN'S BASKETBALL: UND cruises past Idaho State, reaches semifinals

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UND forward Drick Bernstine gathers himself to put up a shot during Thursday’s Big Sky Conference tournament quarterfinal game against Idaho State in Reno, Nev. Photo courtesy of Mackenzie Kasper, Big Sky Conference2 / 3
UND guard Geno Crandall (0) looks for an open man during Thursday’s rout of Idaho State in the quarterfinals of the Big Sky Conference tournament. Mackenzie Kasper, Big Sky Conference3 / 3

RENO, Nev. -- UND hasn’t been a Big Sky Conference member for long. But the Fighting Hawks already have made their presence known in the league’s postseason tournament.

In perhaps UND’s most complete game of the season, the Fighting Hawks turned in a record-setting performance in cruising past Idaho State 83-49 on Thursday in the quarterfinal round of the tournament, a win that sets up a semifinal showdown Friday against perennial league power Weber State -- the Big Sky’s top seed.

UND’s 34-point win also set a record for margin of victory in the conference tournament. And Drick Bernstine’s 21 rebounds also set a single-game tournament record.

Everything went right for UND, which went on a near-perfect 30-3 run to open a 40-10 lead 16 minutes into the game. It was a punch Idaho State -- the No. 4 seed and one of the league’s surprises this season -- could not overcome.

“I said this going into this thing; they’re a team that can win this tournament,” Idaho State coach Bill Evans said. “I still believe they can. They’re a really good team.”

UND’s focus was sharp, long before the game.

“We had such a great shoot around this morning,” UND coach Brian Jones said. “Our confidence was high. The ball was going in a lot. Their voices were going early. I felt we won the game at 8:30 this morning because our focus was there; our urgency was there; our vision was there.”

The players knew something good was in store as well.

“Even when the bigs were shooting around this morning, we were shooting the ball better than we ever had,” Bernstine said. “The energy was strong. We were hyped up.”

UND knew it would face 40 minutes of zone defense against the Bengals (16-15). And the Hawks were sharp against it from the start.

Adam McDermott, who had 28 points against the ISU zone earlier this season, led UND with 16 points. But there was plenty of support, too, as Bernstine added 14 points, followed by Quinton Hooker (13), Geno Crandall (12), Corey Baldwin (10) and Cortez Seales (10).

The Hawks, added Jones, can be a tough matchup for a zone defense.

“We play a lot smaller than most teams,” Jones said. “We play four guards. Sometimes, when you play big, big, it feeds into some zones. We play four skill guys who can move the ball, shoot it and drive it.

“Every time we’ve played them, we’ve got out of the gates strong.”

Idaho State has never beaten UND in Big Sky play. The Hawks are 8-0 against the Bengals since joining the league.

Another factor that may have helped UND was the fact the Hawks already had played a tournament game. UND beat Southern Utah 85-80 on Tuesday. Idaho State had a first-round bye and was making its first appearance at the Reno Events Center.

“Everyone was a little more comfortable and a little more calm,” Hooker said.

While UND’s perimeter game was sharp (9-of-19 on 3-point attempts), Bernstine dominated the inside, making 5-of-11 field-goal attempts and grabbing 21 rebounds (5 offensive, 16 defensive).

“We payed great team defense,” Bernstine said. “The ball literally fell into my hands.”

UND shot 47 percent, compared to Idaho State’s 27 percent.

The Bengals’ top player, Ethan Telfair, finished with 17 points. Against UND earlier this season, he scored 37 points.

Now, UND faces league power Weber with a berth in Saturday’s title game on the line.

UND and Weber have some Big Sky tournament history. In 2013, UND fell to Weber in the tournament semifinals. In the 2014 tournament, Weber beat UND in the title game.

“They’re the powerhouse,” Hooker said. “It’ll take another step forward from us in focus and preparation.”

Wayne Nelson
Nelson is the sports editor of the Herald
(701) 780-1268
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