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Time to go

Time isn't running out for the UND men's basketball team. Tyler Koenig, however, thinks it's about time for the Sioux to turn the corner in the North Central Conference race.

Time isn't running out for the UND men's basketball team. Tyler Koenig, however, thinks it's about time for the Sioux to turn the corner in the North Central Conference race.

"It has to do a lot with having so many new guys," Koenig said of UND's 0-3 start in the North Central Conference. "But we've been together for four months now. We can't use that as an excuse anymore. It can't go on forever."

UND's struggles in the NCC this season haven't come as a shock, considering the Sioux have a new coach and six new players after finishing with a losing record a year ago.

Still, the NCC season has been frustrating for the Sioux because of two near misses at home against the league's top two teams - Minnesota State-Mankato and St. Cloud State. And a disappointing final 11 minutes against South Dakota resulted in a 16-point loss against the Coyotes - UND's most lopsided setback of the regular season.

UND has nine NCC games remaining. That's three quarters of a league season. A win against Nebraska-Omaha on Saturday not only would point the Sioux in the right direction, but it would also provide some confidence.

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"It's disappointing," Koenig said of UND's league start. "But we started out against the three best teams in the league. We can't get down on ourselves."

UND has faced two problems in the NCC. One, UND has allowed considerably more 3-pointers than it has made. Two, the Sioux have been unable to come up with key baskets or defensive stops in the final minutes.

"We'll be up the whole game and it seems to fall apart at the end," said Koenig, a 6-foot-8 junior center.

The Sioux have allowed a league-high 31 three-pointers through three games, while making 11. Overall, they've given up 132 three-pointers in 18 games, while making 82.

"We're giving up seven or eight 3-pointers a game, which is pretty average in the college game," Jones said. "But we're only making three or four 3-pointers a game. When you're scoring a bunch of 2-point field goals, you put more pressure on yourself offensively and defensively."

More than anything, UND wants to protect its home floor against Omaha, which is 1-1 in the league and 10-6 overall.

"Omaha is a lot like us," Jones said. "They have new faces. They're athletic. And the like to get up and down the court.

"We just can't afford to lose any more games at home."

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UND's loss at South Dakota was not as lopsided as the score indicated. That's one of the first things Coyote coach Dave Boots said after the game. The Sioux led 39-37 with 12 minutes to play.

But the last 11 minutes belonged to the Coyotes, who made 10 straight from the field while the Sioux struggled on the offensive end.

"I was just disappointed that we let down a little bit," Jones said. "We have to realize that every night will be a dogfight, especially on the road. For a lot of our guys, this is their first time through the league."

Most NCC games are decided by a handful of possessions in the final minutes. First-place Minnesota State-Mankato is atop the league with a 3-0 mark, but the Mavericks have outscored their opponents by a combined 16 points.

The competitiveness of the league is one lesson the first-year Sioux players have learned through three losses.

"We're getting better," Jones said. "I think we'll be a scary team to play in late January or early February."

Koenig, however, doesn't want to wait that long before the Sioux become more prevalent on the NCC radar.

"There is no one feeling sorry for us," Koenig said. "The main thing is that we have to worry about ourselves more than our opponents."

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As for Saturday's game against Omaha, Koenig said it's time for the Sioux to simply get going.

"In my eyes, it's a must win," he said.

Reach Nelson at 780-1268, (800) 477-6572 ext. 268 or wnelson@gfherald.com .

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