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Scorers emerge in Sioux victory

UND men's basketball coach Brian Jones admitted this week-long stretch of basketball without the team's top two scorers hasn't been pretty. He hopes, though, the Sioux are better off in the long run for withstanding the absence of leaders Travis ...

UND men's basketball coach Brian Jones admitted this week-long stretch of basketball without the team's top two scorers hasn't been pretty. He hopes, though, the Sioux are better off in the long run for withstanding the absence of leaders Travis Bledsoe and Pat Mitchell.

In UND's 79-55 victory over NAIA member Waldorf College on Tuesday night at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center, UND saw encouraging signs from players taking on larger roles for the banged-up Sioux.

Three Sioux players set career-highs in points, while two more tied career-highs. UND freshmen Nick Haugen (15 points), Spencer Goodman (13) and Jordan Allard (six) each set career-highs, while senior Travis Mertens (16) and junior Derek Benter (11) tied theirs.

"It doesn't feel good right now (to be without Bledsoe and Mitchell)," Jones said. "But come January and February, when guys are battle-tested and ready for league play, we're going to be able to throw a lot of guys out there who have played in key situations. It's doesn't feel good right now, but it's helping our team grow. We're going to need those freshmen and other guys to step up and score while those two are out."

Jones said Mitchell, a sophomore out with a sprained ankle, is expected back soon. Bledsoe, who averaged 10.3 points per game last year, may need another week. So will 6-foot-11 freshman post Mitch Wilmer, who has yet to play this season.

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The Sioux, who picked up their first win in five tries, have had a more balanced look without its two starters.

"We know that we're missing about 22 to 25 points per game from those guys," Mertens said. "It's hard for one person to make up all those points. We just ask everyone to chip in a little more. The young guys played well tonight. They're starting to mature before our eyes and it's good to see."

Against Waldorf College, it wasn't smooth sailing for the Sioux early on. The Warriors built a lead as big as five (26-21) with 6 minutes, 31 seconds left in the first half.

But the Sioux finished the half on a 13-3 run. Mertens had four free throws in the spurt, while Goodman completed a three-point play and Dustin Monsebroten and Benter each hit 3-pointers.

The Sioux took a 34-29 lead at halftime, despite Waldorf College knocking down 8-of-15 treys in the first half.

The hot outside shooting went against the Warriors' scouting report. Waldorf College entered the game hitting on about 33 percent of its 3-point attempts.

"Our game plan was to stop their dribble drive, which we thought was their strength," Jones said. "But I just think they wore out. I think that's what happens when some teams get happy with the three ball. It's fools' gold sometimes."

The Sioux pulled away in the second half largely behind the play of Mertens and Haugen.

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Warrior guard Chris Holloway, who finished with a game-high 20 points on 5-for-9 shooting from beyond the arc, hit a 3-pointer with 13:01 left in the game to cut the Sioux lead to 48-41.

But UND answered with a 12-3 run. Mertens started the stretch with an 8-foot jumper, while Haugen added four free throws.

Haugen, a 6-foot-3 guard, finished 4-for-5 from the field, 3-for-4 from the 3-point line and 4-for-4 from the foul line.

"We didn't come out as strong as we would have liked to," Haugen said. "In the second half, we executed better and shots started to fall for us."

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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