UND MEN'S BASKETBALL: UND captures second straight GWC title in win over NJIT
CHICAGO -- The UND men's basketball team will exit the Great West Conference as champion. In their final game in the league, the Sioux relied on their defense to defend their conference crown. UND captured back-to-back tournament titles behind a ...
CHICAGO -- The UND men's basketball team will exit the Great West Conference as champion.
In their final game in the league, the Sioux relied on their defense to defend their conference crown.
UND captured back-to-back tournament titles behind a stout defensive effort in a 75-60 win Saturday over New Jersey Institute of Technology in the championship game of the Great West at Jones Convocation Center.
"It's all about our defense," said UND coach Brian Jones, whose program will enter the Big Sky Conference next season. "That generated our offense the whole second half. Our guys had a lot of energy, and it allowed us to get some easy ones. Guys were flying around and it got contagious."
The Sioux, who improved to 17-14, will play in the CollegeInsider.com tournament for the second year in a row. After winning the 2011 Great West title, the Sioux lost at Air Force in the first round.
After the game, Jones had hoped the Sioux would be able to host a first-round CIT game. Late Saturday night, however, UND learned it will play Drake in Des Moines, Iowa, in the first round. The game will be played either Tuesday or Wednesday.
"(The CIT) might not be as attractive to other teams who are used to getting into the NCAA or the NIT, but the CIT is our NCAA," said Jones, whose team is ineligible for NCAA playoffs as a transitional Division I school. "It's the only thing we can qualify for, and it would be rewarding for both our players and our fans."
The Sioux landed a spot in the CIT behind a huge second half in which they outscored the Highlanders 48-31. UND also had a dominant second half in the semifinals against Texas-Pan American, outscoring the Broncs 40-22 after intermission.
Against NJIT, UND went on a dominant 26-8 run that spanned most of the final eight minutes.
"They did a great job defensively," NJIT coach Jim Engels said. "They're a championship team. They know how to win. I thought they made all the plays needed to take control.
"We've had a good rivalry with them the last two, three years. They're a good program, and they've done a good job building it up."
A day after NJIT was 11-for-21 from the 3-point line, the Sioux held the Highlanders to 3-for-17 from long distance. Great West player of the year Isaiah Wilkerson finished with 19 points to lead NJIT, while all-Great West second team member Chris Flores had 15 points.
"That's our staple," UND sophomore Troy Huff said of his team's defensive showing. "Our defense can lead to transition. That's what we stress. For the rest of the game, the offense will come to us."
The Sioux turned 14 NJIT turnovers into 25 points.
"In those last eight minutes, we got a lot of stops and got easy ones," said UND guard Jamal Webb, who was named the tournament's MVP.
Webb, who finished with 11 points against the Highlanders, was one of five Sioux players in double figures. Huff, who was also named to the all-tournament team, had 15 points. Patrick Mitchell added 12 points (all in the second half), while Josh Schuler had 11 and Brandon Brekke had 10.
The Sioux were also aided by shooting 40 free throws to NJIT's 18.
Mitchell, who had been in foul trouble most of the tournament, was a key cog in the Sioux charging out to a lead in the second half.
UND trailed 11-3 in the opening moments and faced a 29-27 deficit at halftime.
But Mitchell, a senior, started the second half with back-to-back 3-pointers to give the Sioux a 33-29 lead. UND wouldn't trail the rest of the way.
"It's always frustrating sitting on the bench and watching," Mitchell said. "It was nice to hit shots right out of the gate in the second half."
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