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UND downs Portland State, wins Big Sky men's basketball title

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UND's Quinton Hooker goes for a layup during a match up against Portland State at the Betty in Grand Forks on Saturday, March 4, 2017. (Joshua Komer / Grand Forks Herald)2 / 2

With a conference title hanging in the balance and a postseason tournament No. 1 seed on the line, there was no way Quinton Hooker -- one of UND’s more dynamic players in years -- was going to be denied.

As usual, he wasn’t.

Hooker led UND to an 82-73 win over Portland State on Saturday before 2,870 fans at The Betty -- a win that gave the Fighting Hawks the Big Sky Conference regular-season title and the No. 1 seed in next week’s postseason tournament in Reno, Nev.

Hooker, one of four seniors honored before the game, scored 29 points and provided the key points in the closing minutes with the game on the line.

“I couldn’t be more proud of our seniors to go out the right way,” said UND coach Brian Jones. “To win a conference championship on Senior Day, you can’t script that.”

UND finished Big Sky regular-season play 14-4 and 19-9 overall. The Hawks won the title outright later in the day after Eastern Washington, which was tied with UND entering the day, lost at Northern Arizona.

Hooker was at the center of everything with the game on the line. He scored five-straight points in a span of 15 seconds to give the Hawks a 75-70 lead with 1:39 to go. That spurt was enough in a game that saw no more than 10 points separate the teams.

“No one said it was going to be easy,” said Hooker. “But we wouldn’t want it any other way.”

UND rebounded from a disappointing loss to Sacramento State on Thursday night, a loss that could have been demoralizing. Friday’s practice, however, left UND feeling good about its game against Portland State.

“Thursday’s loss actually was a boost for us,” said Hooker. “Having that time to refocus and prepare, we realized there were bigger and better things we had to do. We fought through fatigue, getting hit, getting knocked down, fighting through calls and missed shots. To be able to finish a game like that, honestly, is a blessing.”

UND’s scoring came from Hooker and guard Geno Crandall (21 points). But it was a contentious game, with Portland State (7-11, 14-15) hanging around the entire game, thanks to blistering 3-point shooting for the first 30 minutes.

The Vikings, led by Traylin Farris’ 17 points, had two one-point leads early in the second half. UND didn’t help itself, either, committing 22 turnovers.

But Crandall and Hooker carried UND down the stretch. With UND leading 53-51, Hooker and Crandall combined for UND’s next 11 points, a spurt that gave the Hawks some breathing room.

Portland State made one more run at UND before Hooker’s five-straight points rescued UND again.

Crandall said he felt good about UND’s chances entering the day.

“I’m the most confident person on the planet,” said Crandall. “I was saying in warmups, ‘Hey, we’re going to be cutting down nets come 5 p.m.’ But it’s still surreal. You can talk about (a title) and you can imagine it but until it’s there … it’s hard to explain.”

UND’s title is the fourth title the school’s athletic program has won or shared this season in the Big Sky, joining UND women’s basketball, football and volleyball.

“It’s overwhelming to win this,” said Jones. “It’s shown that the hard work has paid off.”

And no one worked harder than Hooker, who seemed to be on the floor for every loose ball.

“Whether it was his scoring, rebounding, getting on the floor, knocking the ball loose … he’s such a special player,” said Jones.

Wayne Nelson
Nelson is the sports editor of the Herald
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