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Quick start lifts UND past Portland State and into Big Sky semifinal round

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UND's Geno Crandall drives to the basket as Portland State's Calaen Robinson defends during Thursday's Big Sky Conference tournament game. Photo/Mackenzie Kasper3 / 5
UND's Carson Shanks (center) and Quinton Hooker celebrate during the closing minutes of the Fighting Hawks' 95-72 win over Portland State on Thursday. Photo/Mackenzie Kasper.4 / 5
UND's Cortez Seales (left) and Drick Bernstine defend as Portland State's Deontae North drives to the basket during Thursday's Big Sky quarterfinal game in Reno, Nev. Photo/Mackenzie Kasper.5 / 5

RENO, Nev.—UND opened the Big Sky Conference season with a crushing loss at Portland State. The 37-point setback in late December was one of the program's more lopsided losses in years.

But UND rebounded and went on to win the league's regular-season title. UND and Portland State met again in the quarterfinals of the Big Sky tournament Thursday, and the Hawks played like a team that won the regular-season title and earned the No. 1 seed in the tournament.

A lighting start carried UND past Portland State 95-72 at the Reno Events Center and earned the Hawks a berth in Friday night's semifinal round.

UND had something to prove, said UND's Corey Baldwin, who led the way with 18 points.

"We just wanted to win but the first (league) game of the season they kind of gave us a little whipping. We had that in the back our our minds coming in. We were focused and dialed in from the start."

How hot was UND?

The Hawks made 12 of their first 14 shots, accuracy that allowed UND to bolt to a 29-13 lead with 11:21 to go.

"Our urgency set the tone," said UND coach Brian Jones. "Our defense was good and we shared the ball well for the first 10 minutes. That allowed Corey and 'Q' to get some rhythm shots. That also helped open the lane for penetration by our guards later in the half."

UND placed six players in double figures. Quinton Hooker added 17, while Cortez Seales (15), Geno Crandall (15), Carson Shanks (12) and Conner Avants (10) also reached double digits.

"I thought we played with a lot of energy," added Hooker. "We moved the ball well. And the first game of a tournament is the hardest to play, especially when the other team already had played a game. But we adjusted."

For the first 16 minutes, UND virtually did no wrong.

But the Vikings (14-16) rebounded by bringing more full-court pressure. Portland State, led by Bryce Canda's 12 points, finished the half on a 12-0 run—cutting UND's lead to 49-35 at halftime.

"Our guys were getting riled up from their pressure," said Baldwin. "We knew they'd go on a run. We just had to stay patient."

Canda scored on a tip-in to start the second half, cutting UND's lead to 49-37. But Hooker and Baldwin responded with back-to-back 3-pointers. UND never looked back.

"We cut it to 12 at the start of the second half and we were in good shape," said Portland State coach Tyler Geving. "We've been in those positions before, coming back from 12 points. But I didn't think they'd continue to shoot it like that. But they did. They just beat us today."

UND shot 56 percent (33 of 59) and was 11 of 20 on 3-point attempts. Also, the Hawks had 22 assists.

The consensus was UND's opener would be close. Last Saturday, UND and Portland State went toe-to-toe, with the Hawks winning 82-73 in Grand Forks to clinch the regular-season title.

"Portland State is extremely talented," said Jones. "They have offensive weapons; they're athletic and fast. I knew they'd be a dangerous team."

But UND's lightning start was the difference.

UND improved to 20-9, marking the first time in the program's Division I history that the Hawks have won 20 games in a season.

"I picked them No. 1 at the start of the year," said Geving. "They played extremely well."

Wayne Nelson
Nelson is the sports editor of the Herald
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