GRAND FORKS — The University of North Dakota was credited with 14 assists during its 67-61 women’s basketball win over Rhode Island on Friday afternoon at The Betty.
UND’s biggest assist, however, wasn’t charted.
The assist came from the approximate 1,000 Grand Forks elementary students who attended the noon game. Their cheering started early and didn’t end until UND secured the win in the final seconds.
At one point, the arena’s decibel meter reached 104.7.
“I love kids’ days and I tell our players you should die to want to play in that kind of atmosphere,” said Rhode Island coach Tammi Reiss. “They’re screaming and half the time they don’t know who they’re screaming for; they’re just jacked up on sugar.
“That gets you excited. As a player, you want to play in that atmosphere. You hear my voice? It’s my Kathleen Turner voice because of that decibel level.”
The kids’ day atmosphere was a win-win for the Hawks and the fans, said UND coach Travis Brewster.
“It’s great to have the support of the Grand Forks community and I know our players really enjoyed it,” said Brewster. “I hope the kids understand the importance of school and the importance of being able to see student-athletes out there competing and doing a good job.”
UND led throughout and went up 26-6 in the second quarter before the Rams began to stabilize their play and claw their way back.
UND, however, had just enough of everything to hang on down the stretch.
The Hawks had balanced scoring as 6-foot-6 junior Melissa Leet finished with a career-high 15 points and also blocked five shots. Julia Fleecs added 13 but the Hawks also had four other players finish with eight and nine points.
Kassondra Brown’s putback with 30 seconds to go cut UND’s lead to 67-61, but Fleecs and Claire Orth hit three free throws in the closing seconds to seal the win as UND improved to 2-1. Rhode Island, an Atlantic 10 Conference member, dropped to 1-1. The Rams, who shot 50% in the third quarter to make their way back, were led by Brown’s 18 points.
UND was prepared for the noise as the Hawks cranked up the loudspeakers during practice this week.
“At one point during practice, Brew would play kids screaming over the loudspeakers,” said UND point guard Alaina Jarnot, who scored nine points and dished out five assists with no turnovers. “So we were kind of ready for the noise.”
UND started the season with seven freshmen and four of them saw the court against the Rams.
But it was Leet and Fleecs, both juniors, who came up big when it counted.
Leet hit a 3-pointer with 4:26 to go, giving UND a 61-51 lead. And Fleecs finished with 13 points and nine rebounds.
“We’re proud of what we did today,” said Leet. “Now, we have to focus on Valparaiso.”
The Hawks host Valparaiso on Sunday.