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Hawks have no choice but to grind through the men's basketball season

UND USD mbb2.jpg
UND's Paul Bruns and USD's Tasos Kamateros battle for a rebound in the first half of their game Monday at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center.
Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald<br/>

GRAND FORKS — It’s one thing to face a conference season with a lot of new players. It’s another to navigate the season during a pandemic.

The UND men’s basketball team faces both of those challenges but that’s the way it will be the rest of the season, which continues Thursday night for the Hawks in a home game against Western Illinois.

UND is 0-4 in the league and 4-13 overall. Western Illinois is 1-3 in the Summit but 10-3 overall as the Leathernecks appear to be one of the more improved teams in the league this season.

“This is where we are; no one is going to feel sorry for us,” said UND coach Paul Sather. “We can’t hang our heads and feel sorry for ourselves. We have to work and solve the problems. This isn’t putting blame. The blame comes to me. We’re trying to navigate through this and figure this out and be the best team we can possibly be. I think we’ve made strides offensively lately. But we’ve fallen defensively.”

But there have been bright spots this season.

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One is the emergence of UND’s freshmen and transfers.

True freshman Paul Bruns is UND’s leading scorer, averaging 14.1 points per game. That ranks 12th in the Summit and he’s the top scoring freshman in the league. In league play, Bruns’ average is 16 ppg.

Bruns, a 6-foot-4 guard from Jefferson, S.D., has had 12 double-digit scoring outings and leads UND with 40 three-pointers. He’s also had four games in which he’s scored 20 or more points.

“What a great opportunity for him,” said Sather. “He’s getting a chance to play a lot of minutes and I love how he’s competing. You see him offensively playing with a lot of confidence. I love his aggressiveness and confidence and it’s fun to see that from a young guy because he’s just going to keep growing and getting better. On the defensive end, he has to keep challenging himself and pushing himself because we need him to continue to grow on that side of the ball.”

Tsotne Tsartsidze is one of UND’s new faces as well and the 6-9 forward from Tbilisi, Georgia, is quietly putting up some solid numbers in the Hawks’ past few games.

Tsartsidze is averaging 8.6 points and 5.4 rebounds this season but has scored 10 or more points in UND’s past six games – highlighted by an 18-point effort against North Dakota State.

UND’s newcomers – Bruns, Tsartsidze and Matt Norman, another junior-college transfer – all are starting to emerge with the Hawks.

“There is no doubt; they’re turning corners,” added Sather. “It’s good to have that. You wish Caleb (Nero) could be out there as well right now. That’s a bit of a missing link for us. He’s got some more dynamic ability to attack off the bounce. And his ability to stretch the floor and score would help our bigs.”

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Nero, one of the few UND returning players with considerable experience, has been out the past nine games due to a lower-body injury. The timetable for the point guard’s return is still up in the air but the Hawks are hoping he can return in the next week or two.

UND will have only one game this week.

On Wednesday, the Summit announced UND's home game against St. Thomas on Saturday has been postponed due to COVID protocols in the Tommies’ program.

The game has yet to be rescheduled.

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