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UND finds a way to take OT win against Northern Arizona

Fighting Hawks guard Marlon Stewart is airborne for a layup in the first half of Saturday's men's home basketball game against Northern Arizona. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald1 / 5
UND foward Kienan Walter collides with Northern Arizona's Isaiah Thomas (left) on a rebound in the first half of Saturday's matinee basketball game at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald2 / 5
Northern Arizona forward Corey Brown (#2) forces a turnover on UND's Dale Jones during Saturday's basketball game at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald3 / 5
UND's Geno Crandall guards Northern Arizona guard Torry Johnson during the first half of Saturday's home men's basketball game. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald4 / 5
The Fighting Hawks' Cortez Seales hits a jumper against Northern Arizona Saturday afternoon at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald5 / 5

UND and Northern Arizona are two teams that have been in a growing process throughout the season.

That's probably why mistakes were made by both teams at critical times during Saturday's Big Sky Conference game before 1,970 fans at The Betty.

But UND grew a little more than its opponent after its 86-81 overtime win over Northern Arizona. The Fighting Hawks overcame a near collapse at the end of regulation and Northern Arizona's 80 percent second-half shooting to improve to 5-10 in the Big Sky and 10-17 overall while NAU dropped to 1-13 and 4-23.

"You have to win ugly and you have to win gracefully as well," said UND coach Brian Jones. "The last two games for us, we've won ugly. That might be the mantra of this team. We're not a well-oiled machine by any means. But if you can find ways to grind out wins, that's what February and March are all about."

UND led most of the way but the Hawks couldn't put away NAU, mainly because of the Lumberjacks' 16-for-20 shooting in the second half. After a fairly solid first half, UND led 32-26 at the break.

"But we didn't carry over our defensive energy, urgency and focus in the second half," said Jones. "We didn't do a good job of guarding the basketball."

However, UND's offense against NAU's zone was more than efficient. The Hawks finished with a season-best 15 three-pointers on 32 attempts and at one point had 21 assists on their first 21 baskets.

Geno Crandall led the way with 28 points and the Hawks seemingly were about to close out the game in regulation before the Lumberjacks, who trailed 69-64 with 46 seconds to go, tied the game at 69 on a Chris Bowling slam—coming on a UND turnover against NAU's press—with 29 seconds to go.

In overtime, Torry Johnson (33 points) scored with three minutes to go to put NAU up 76-74.

That's when Conner Avants went to work. Scoreless through regulation, Avants scored all eight of his points in the extra period and his traditional 3-point play put UND up for good at 77-76 with 2:29 left. Crandall provided the assist on the play. The Hawks finished with 24 assists, nine coming from Marlon Stewart.

"A win is a win," said Avants. "Obviously, you want to see some growth and there was some growth."

UND now has a week off to prepare for Northern Colorado, a team that beat UND with a half-court buzzer beater last month in Greeley.

For UND, it was its first OT win in four tries.

"We were at home and we needed this one," said Crandall. "This game was a lot like Thursday's game (a four-point win over Southern Utah). We had to find a way to win."

Wayne Nelson
Nelson is the sports editor of the Herald
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