UND men's basketball: Sioux get scrappy in league win

Out of necessity, UND took on New Jersey Institute of Technology in a weekday matinee at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center. But the Sioux and Highlanders put on a show worthy of prime time.

Out of necessity, UND took on New Jersey Institute of Technology in a weekday matinee at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center. But the Sioux and Highlanders put on a show worthy of prime time.

In one of the more raucous games in recent UND men's basketball history, the Sioux beat NJIT 90-78 on Tuesday in a Great West Conference game that resulted in the following:

n Patrick Mitchell's 10 three-pointers, which tied UND's single-game record that has stood since 1994. The Sioux sophomore finished with a career-high 33 points.

n UND's 16 three-pointers, which tied the program's single-game record.

n A seldom called bench warning, assessed against NJIT.


n And a late-game skirmish that resulted in the ejection of three players.

In the end, however, the 1,691 UND fans saw the Sioux continue their solid late-season play. The Sioux improved to 5-3 in the Great West and 8-18 overall. A second-place finish in the Great West is not out of the question for the Sioux, who are in their second Division I season.

"We needed this game," said UND senior Travis Mertens, who was one of the three players ejected in the melee. "It was a physical game and we knew it would be going into the game. They don't give up. Give them credit for that."

NJIT seemed to be out of the picture when two Mertens free throws gave the Sioux a 77-60 lead with 4 minutes, 9 seconds to play. The Sioux lead was built on the back of Mitchell, who hit 11 of 15 field goals, including a 10-for-13 showing from beyond the arc.

"I was open and I was feeling it," Mitchell said. "My teammates did a tremendous job of sharing the ball and finding the open guy. Today, I was the open guy."

But NJIT didn't go down without a fight -- literally.

After Chris Flores' long 3-pointer with 2:31 to play cut UND's lead to 80-71, a skirmish erupted near to the right of the Highlanders' basket. Mertens and NJIT's Ryan Regis were initially involved in the incident and both were ejected, as was the Highlanders' Isaiah Wilkerson, who left the bench.

"I don't want to say he threw a cheap shot, but he (Regis) got a little physical," Mertens said. "I thought he fouled me. When I hit the floor, he tried to step on me. I grabbed his leg, trying to get him to quit stepping on me. Things broke out and escalated from there. And the next thing you know, we were ejected."


After order was restored, NJIT -- led by Flores' 25 points -- cut UND's lead to eight points. But Travis Bledsoe, who finished with 20 points, hit seven free throws in the final 2:27 to preserve the win.

Mitchell's record-tying 3-pointer came at the buzzer, with UND running out the clock.

Was Mitchell's last 3-pointer necessary?

"That is what it is," NJIT coach Jim Engles said.

The Highlanders' coach said his young team -- which won only one game last season -- is trying to earn respect.

NJIT came back behind its pressure defense, which caused 20 UND turnovers.

"That's the way we have to play," Engles said. "When we get down, we have to keep fighting."

About the skirmish, Engles said: "Thankfully, nothing more became of it."


UND coach Brian Jones said both teams play hard and neither back down, another factor in the skirmish.

"It was late in the game and both teams were trying to find a way to win," Jones said. "Then two guys get a little carried away. But that happens in a game. Our guys aren't malicious and I've watched enough film on New Jersey Tech to know they don't have malicious players, either.

"We're two teams that are alike. We have to fight and claw for everything we get. They're a hard-nosed team and that's what we saw at the end."

The teams will play again Saturday in Newark.

UND 90, NJIT 78

Key play: Back-to-back 3-pointers by Patrick Mitchell for a 21-12 UND lead.

Key player: Mitchell, career-high 33 points, 10 three-pointers.

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
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