Freshmen shine in key stretch as UND beats Denver 83-68 in Summit League tournament opener
Eaglestaff and Omot combined to score all 13 UND points in a 13-5 run in the second half.
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — In the first half Friday night against Denver, UND's two star freshmen were a combined 0-for-8 from the field and missed six 3-pointers.
But when UND needed Treysen Eaglestaff and B.J. Omot the most, the rookies delivered.
The two combined for 23 second-half points and scored all 13 points in a key 13-5 run that sparked an 83-68 win over the Pioneers in a first-round Summit League tournament game at the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center.
"They're really good basketball players," said UND coach Paul Sather, who wanted to include in that freshmen mix Elijah Brooks, who provided strong defense in the second half. "They make a lot of plays and make it about the team. They're young guys going through this for the first time, but they're not really freshmen anymore. They've played more minutes than a lot of sophomores out there. They've been a big part of what we're doing."
No. 9 seed UND, winners of six of the last eight, advances to face No. 1 seed and conference unbeaten Oral Roberts at 6 p.m. Saturday in the quarterfinals.
"I think it's a great opportunity for us," said UND's Matt Norman, who scored a team-high 25 points on 6-for-11 shooting from 3-point range. "We'll come out and play as hard as we can and see what happens."
Through the first three-fourths of the game, UND and Denver went back and forth with the Hawks buoyed mostly by Norman's offense.
That's when the freshmen took flight.
UND went on a 13-5 run that took a 51-47 Hawks lead with 11:15 left to a 64-52 advantage with eight minutes to play.
Eaglestaff, a 6-foot-6 guard from Bismarck, started the run with a 3-pointer, then scored on an offensive putback, followed by another 3-pointer.
Omot, a 6-8 forward from Mankato, followed by scoring his first basket of the game on an alley-oop finish in transition from Eaglestaff. Omot then hit a 3-pointer to cap the run.
Eaglestaff finished with 15 points and eight assists. His passing ability comes as no surprise, Sather said.
"I think you can play him in a lot of spots," Sather said. "It doesn't surprise me at all. There's not much he does that surprises me. You should see him hit a golf ball, then flip over and hit it left-handed. What's fun is they're awesome guys off the floor, too. They've been really good people in our program. It's fun to see that growth."
UND was able to overcome a dominant inside game from Denver's Lukas Kisunas, the 6-foot-10 Lithuanian graduate transfer from Stanford who scored a game-high 27 points on 12-for-15 shooting. Tommy Bruner added 18 points for Denver.
"Paul did a wonderful job with his team this year," Denver coach Jeff Wulbrun said. "His young kids came along so well and matured and developed. Omot, what a good-looking freshman he is."
After Norman's 25 points and Eaglestaff's 15, Brady Danielson had 13 points and six rebounds, while Tstotne Tsartsidze had nine points and seven rebounds. Omot had eight points and five assists. Jalun Trent had seven points.
"We let Norman get loose too often tonight," Wulbrun said. "We knew their 3-point prowess. Norman was the guy. His six killed us. He is as good of a shooter as there is in the league."