League-leading ORU holds off UND
Golden Eagles use late run to take 84-72 win over Hawks, who showed significant improvement over the weekend
GRAND FORKS – A month ago, few knew where the UND men’s basketball team was headed. Was a disastrous Summit League season in the works? Did the Hawks have enough talent to remain competitive in the league? Were major changes in store?
No need to pursue those questions now.
After a rough start to the league season, UND appears to have taken a major step forward – evidenced by its performance this weekend. After beating Kansas City behind a school-record 18 three-pointers two days earlier, UND pushed league leader Oral Roberts to the limit Saturday before a late-game 7-0 run carried the Golden Eagles past the Fighting Hawks 84-72 before 1,655 fans at The Betty.
It was UND’s best league performance of the season, one coming against a program with NCAA Tournament experience and one rated No. 31 in the latest RPI.com index.
“We showed we can compete,” said freshman B.J. Omot, who led UND with 20 points. “We showed we can be a really good team but we still need some practice and some learning but I think we’ll figure it out.”
Oral Roberts improved to 8-0 in the league and 17-4 overall. The Golden Eagles have the league’s best player in NBA-bound Max Abmas, who scored 27 points, and 7-foot-5 center Connor Vanover, who sparked the late-game run and finished with 19 points and eight rebounds.
“You can see and feel the improvement and energy these guys are bringing,” said UND coach Paul Sather. “So we have to keep that; we have to keep getting better.”
There were 12 lead changes before ORU went on its decisive spurt.
After UND’s Jalun Trent cut the deficit to 67-65 with 5:05 to go, Abmas hit two free throws, followed by a Vanover slam and 3-pointer – a 60-second spurt that put ORU up 74-65 lead. With ORU’s talent and experience, that was too much for the Hawks to overcome.
“In a one-minute span, that team went on that run,” said Sather. “And that’s all that team needs. And that’s something we can learn from.
“We guarded them right and we did the things we had to do, but they’re awfully good.”
ORU placed four of its five starters in double figures and shot 54 percent. UND stayed with the Golden Eagles largely behind its floor game. The Hawks had only six turnovers, none in the first half, which ended in a 39-37 UND lead.
ORU swept its North Dakota trip, dismantling North Dakota State 92-69 on Thursday. It’s not an easy trip for the Tulsa, Okla., school, said guard Issac McBride.
“Give props to North Dakota,” said McBride. “They came out with a great game plan and they executed it. Playing on the road is never easy; the North Dakota State, North Dakota stretch has always been one of the hardest road competitions we’ve had.”
ORU coach Paul Mills was not made available for a post-game interview.
UND won’t have much time to digest the weekend of improved play.
On Sunday, the Hawks will fly out of Fargo, en route to Monday’s rescheduled game at Western Illinois.
But UND center Tsotne Tsartsidze said good things may be in store as the Hawks wrap up the first half of the Summit season at Western Illinois.
“I think everyone can see the improvement,” said Tsartsidze.