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UND BASKETBALL: Youth not an excuse as UND continues its season

UND is sitting with a 3-4 record heading into Saturday's game at Bradley, a 1-7 program with a new coach and a number of new faces. The Fighting Hawks opened the season with seven new faces and only two returning players who had seen considerable...

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UND guard Geno Crandall drives down the court at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center in Grand Forks, ND during Saturday's basketball game against University of Northern Iowa. At the conclusions of Saturday's game, Northern Iowa bested UND 97-51. Photo by Nick Nelson for the Grand Forks Herald.

UND is sitting with a 3-4 record heading into Saturday’s game at Bradley, a 1-7 program with a new coach and a number of new faces.

The Fighting Hawks opened the season with seven new faces and only two returning players who had seen considerable playing time. Bradley, a Missouri Valley Conference team, is even younger than UND as the Braves have a combined 10 freshmen and sophomores on their 13-player roster.

Youth aside, UND coach Brian Jones still expects considerable contributions from his team’s younger players at Bradley and for the rest of the season.

“I expect big things out of them because of how talented they are,” said Jones after the Fighting Hawks downed Waldorf 78-58 on Tuesday. “I have a lot of confidence in them; a lot of trust and faith in them.

“That’s why it was so disappointing Saturday (a 97-51 loss to Northern Iowa) because they’re better than that. They’re still young; they’re only five or six games into their careers. But I’m going to hold them to a high standard because I believe in how talented they are and how gifted they are from an IQ standpoint.”

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So far, UND has defeated Minnesota-Morris, Bowling Green and Waldorf. The Hawks lost to Wisconsin, Florida Gulf Coast, Youngstown State and Northern Iowa.

The loss to Northern Iowa, however, stung more than the others, considering UND had a chance to showcase what it could do before one of the bigger crowds at The Betty during the past few seasons and the fact that the game was televised regionally.

But UND has turned the page and now turns its attention to Bradley, a team that already has played the likes of Arizona, Virginia, Seton Hall and Ole Miss.

UND does have experience in the backcourt with Quinton Hooker, also the team’s leading scorer.

Up front, however, UND’s experience is lacking. The Fighting Hawks have received productive minutes from 6-foot-7 true freshman Conner Avants. However, Avants has had to play the center position some since 7-footer Carson Shanks (back) has missed the past two game. Shanks may be back for Bradley, however.

“Conner has been pretty consistent all year,” said Jones. “He’s probably been the biggest surprise.”

Avants is averaging 5.1 points and 3.3 rebounds through seven games, playing an average of 17 minutes.

“I came in and was going to play as hard as I possible could,” said the forward from Edmond, Okla. “Getting this experience early will be big once we get into conference play.”

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Geno Crandall and Cortez Seales are two other first-year players UND will be leaning on as the season progresses.

Seales, a true freshman, is averaging 11.4 points through seven games, shooting 55 percent from the field.

Crandall is averaging 10 points and 3 rebounds from his point guard position and he’s also ready to move forward, hoping for a good performance at Bradley since UND will play two of its following three games at home.

“(Bradley) is a team like us,” said Crandall. “It comes down to who’s going to play hard and who’s going to play smarter. If we come out hot and punch them in the mouth, we should have a pretty good chance.”

Wayne Nelson is the sports editor at the Herald.


He has been with the Grand Forks Herald since 1995, serving as the UND football and basketball beat writer as well as serving as the sports editor.



He is a UND graduate and has been writing sports since the late 1970s.



Follow him on Twitter @waynenelsongf. You can reach him at (701) 780-1268 or wnelson@gfherald.com.
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