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UND hangs on as Montana State last-second 3-pointer misfires

The Fighting Hawks' Billy Brown and Montana State forward Joe Mvuezolo Jr. scrap for a loose ball in the second half of Thursday's home men's basketball game. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald1 / 5
UND's Geno Crandall makes a break for the hoop as Montana State guard Harald Frey tries to block his path Thursday night at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald2 / 5
Montana State guard Harald Frey keeps his eye on UND's Marlon Stewart during the second half of Thursday's home men's basketball game. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald3 / 5
Fighting Hawks forward Conner Avants goes airborne for a shot past Montana State's Zach Green (#0) during Thursday's basketball game at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald4 / 5
The Fighting Hawks' Geno Crandall feels the pressure from Montana State forwards Konner Frey (center) and Joe Mvuezolo Jr. (right) in the final moments of the first half of Thursday night's men's basketball game at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald5 / 5

UND would like to forget its early second-half performance against Montana State.

Then again, the Fighting Hawks may need to recall that poor showing if things unravel again at some point during the remainder of the season.

UND went from good to bad and back to good again in a roller-coaster 75-74 win over Montana State on Thursday night in a Big Sky Conference game before 1,885 fans at The Betty.

It was a big win for UND, which improved to 3-7 in the league and 8-14 overall. The win showed that UND, when its game is on target, can play with just about any team in the league.

"When our guys are confident, they're pretty good," said UND coach Brian Jones.

UND played with pace and urgency early, bolting to a 14-2 lead. The Hawks led 38-33 at the break before Montana opened the second half on a 14-0 run—a stretch of UND basketball that simply was bad. The half began with a turnover and an intentional foul call on the Hawks, which led to four MSU points in the first nine seconds.

But the Hawks regrouped and slowly made their way back behind the outside shooting of Dale Jones (18 points), the consistent play of Geno Crandall (17) and the lockdown defensive effort of Cortez Seales on his childhood buddy Tyler Hall—the preseason Big Sky Conference player of the year.

Seales and Hall, Montana State's all-time 3-point leader, grew up together in the Quad Cities. Hall, who averages more than 18 points per game, was held to six points on 1-of-11 shooting.

"It was a great challenge to guard him," said Seales, who also scored 12 points. "He's one of the best forwards in the country, let alone in this conference. And most people know that he's like my brother."

And there was banter between the two most of the night.

"Every time I scored on him, I reminded him," said Seales with a smile.

UND took the lead for good on two Conner Avants' free throws with 4:51 to go. Seales later followed with UND's biggest basket, a mid-range jumper with 2:06 remaining that gave the Hawks a 73-65 advantage.

But Montana State surged, scoring on three-straight 3-point possessions by Keljin Blevins and Harald Frey. Frey's 3-pointer with 38 seconds left cut the UND lead to 75-74.

Crandall's runner in the lane with 9 seconds to go rolled out, setting up the Bobcats for a potential game-winner.

But Hall's long 3-pointer at the buzzer was off the mark.

Jones couldn't watch the last-second attempt. Both Jones and Hall went to Rock Island (Ill.) High School as the game featured a handful of stories within the story.

Frey led Montana State with 21 points. UND, meanwhile, placed four players in double figures as Avants finished with 10 to join Jones, Crandall and Seales.

"In the first half, I thought we were dynamite for the most part," said the UND coach. "In the second half, that intentional foul kind of got us on our heels. But we started to defend and then started to score off of our defense. There was a lot of maturity and growth there."

The Bobcats dropped to 5-5 in the league and 12-11 overall. MSU's biggest downfall was its shooting (39 percent). The Bobcats were 4-of-23 from beyond the arc.

"We got good looks," said Montana State coach Brian Fish. "We just didn't knock them down."

UND will take on league-leader Montana on Saturday. The Griz beat Northern Colorado 88-79 to remain unbeaten in the league.

Wayne Nelson
Nelson is the sports editor of the Herald
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