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North Dakota State rides bigs to big win over UND

Grant Nelson and Andrew Morgan combined for 33 points as Bison win 71-49 in Grand Forks.

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UND's Jalun Trent (4) leaps for a rebound layup against N.D. State guard Luke Yoder and forward Andrew Morgan (23) during a Summit League men's basketball matchup at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center in Grand Forks on Friday, December 30, 2022.
Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald
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GRAND FORKS — The UND and North Dakota State men's basketball programs both feature new-look rosters from a year ago and entered the weekend positioned at the back end of the Summit League men's basketball standings.

On Friday night, one team looked poised to rise in the league race. The other team left searching for an identity.

North Dakota State's Grant Nelson and Andrew Morgan combined for 33 points and the Bison defense limited UND to 20 first-half points en route to a 71-49 victory at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center.

Nelson, a 6-foot-11 junior from Devils Lake, and Morgan, a 6-10 sophomore from Waseca, Minn., established dominance early as NDSU raced out to a 36-20 halftime advantage.

The two NDSU bigs helped the Bison to a 30-14 advantage in points in the paint, a 14-4 advantage in second-chance points and 42-27 advantage on the glass.

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"I think Bison basketball is about defending, rebounding and taking care of the ball," NDSU coach Dave Richman said. "I thought we got stops, finished possessions with rebounds. Those two are really good players. At times, teams have to make decisions about how they're going to guard them, and we have to play off that. I thought for the better part of 40 minutes tonight we were able to do those things."

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UND forward A'Jahni Levias (21) breaks past N.D. State guard Damari Wheeler-Thomas (10) for a first half layup during a Summit League men's basketball matchup at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center in Grand Forks on Friday, December 30, 2022.
Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald

UND shot just 30.2 percent from the field and didn't have a player score more than 10 points.

"First and foremost, it starts with the energy, effort and enthusiasm ... we didn't have it, and that's on me," UND coach Paul Sather said. "We need to come out more ready to play a Summit League basketball game than we were tonight. That's a good, physical team on the front line. They just played harder. They had the edge. They set the tone. I don't think we really got to a point in the game where we showed much fight, and that's on me."

UND was buried early, as the Bison used a 12-2 run midway through the first half to twist a 12-9 lead into a 24-11 advantage with more than eight and a half minutes left to halftime.

The Hawks had a tiny window of hope in the second half when B.J. Omot, who was limited to just seven points on 2-for-10 shooting, hit a 3-pointer and moments later was fouled on a transition dunk attempt and hit 1-of-2 at the foul line.

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The Fighting Hawks' Elijah Brooks drives the ball against N.D. State guard Tajavis Miller (2) in the first half of a rivalry Summit League men's basketball game at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center in Grand Forks on Friday, December 30, 2022.
Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald

The blip of momentum cut the Bison lead to 12 with 13:25 remaining.

UND's Matt Norman then attempted a step-back 3-pointer for a chance to cut the Bison lead to nine but the shot missed. NDSU answered back with a Boden Skunberg 3-pointer to push the lead back to 15.

Nelson then found Morgan inside for an easy post-to-post connection, followed by another Skunberg trey to make it 53-33 and the rout was on.

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"It's a credit to the guys in the practice facility working," Richman said. "We worked really hard this week. I was pleased how we defended and rebounded for the better part of 40 minutes."

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N.D. State head men's basketball coach David Richman reacts to a Bison penalty call in the first half of a rivalry Summit League men's basketball game against the UND Fighting Hawks at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center in Grand Forks on Friday, December 30, 2022.
Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald

Skunberg, a junior guard from Jamestown, ended with 14 points on 4-for-6 from deep.

UND played 12 players at least six minutes in the game, as the Hawks struggle to find a consistent lineup.

"The ball was too stagnant, not moving it," UND's A'Jahni Levias said. "Trying to play 1-on-1 sometimes. We have to get the ball moving. We try to create something on that first side, rather than moving it around."

Levias led UND with 10 points, while Tsotne Tsartsidze added nine.

"There's been a lot of guys with a lot of opportunities, and we're looking for guys to step forward and claim some things," Sather said. "We'd have different guys at different times step up and do good things, so we haven't been able to narrow it down. We've tried. Those are some things we're really working on. We talk about it as a team. It's frustrating not just for coaches but for the players. We might be the only team in the country right now with 10 guys with 15 or more minutes per game. A lot of guys are getting an opportunity, so let's take advantage of that opportunity. It hasn't been consistent like we need it to be."

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UND Fighting Hawks forward BJ Omot (20) drives the ball as N.D. State guard Damari Wheeler-Thomas (10) tumbles to the hardwood at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center in Grand Forks in the first half of a Summit League men's basketball game on Friday, December 30, 2022.
Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald

Related Topics: UND BASKETBALLUND SPORTS
Miller has covered sports at the Grand Forks Herald since 2004 and was the state sportswriter of the year in 2019.

His primary beat is UND football but also reports on a variety of UND sports and local preps.

He can be reached at (701) 780-1121, tmiller@gfherald.com or on Twitter at @tommillergf.
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