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UND MEN'S BASKETBALL: UND hopes to cash in at home

The ability to protect home court is a heightened need in a Big Sky Conference that spans three time zones and makes winning on the road even more difficult than many leagues.

The ability to protect home court is a heightened need in a Big Sky Conference that spans three time zones and makes winning on the road even more difficult than many leagues.

The UND men’s basketball team will be faced with that task during a three-game homestand -- starting at 7 Thursday against Sacramento State -- after playing just one home game since Thanksgiving.

“It’s huge,” UND coach Brian Jones said. “We have a chance to make a statement in the league, but we also have to do it against three teams ranked ahead of us in preseason.”

UND will host Portland State on Saturday, followed by Northern Colorado next weekend.

The home team has historically had the upper hand in the series against Sacramento State. The home team has won every matchup in the series that dates back to the 2010-11 season.

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But the Hornets are one of four league teams to start conference play 2-0. Sac State is 8-5 overall.

The Hornets, who were picked to finish fourth in preseason polls, are led by senior guards Mikh McKinney and Dylan Garrity. McKinney is third in the league in scoring at 17.4 points per game, while Garrity is 10th in the conference at 14.5 points per game.

“I told the guys that McKinney and Garrity are the best 1-2 punch in the league as far as point guard and shooting guard,” said Jones, whose team is 5-8 overall and 1-1 in Big Sky play. “They’re multi-year starters. They not only score, but they share it as well.”

McKinney is the league’s top guard in field-goal percentage at 54.5 percent. He’s third in assists per game at 4.9 and first in steals at 2.8.

“They’re very potent,” Jones said. “It’s going to be a team effort against them.”

Jones said UND has done well on initial defensive stops, but the team needs to finish possessions by improving its defensive rebounding.

The team’s top rebounder is Jaron Nash, who has twice as many rebounds as the second leading rebounder. Nash has 91 rebounds to point guard Quinton Hooker’s 41.

Nash, however, struggled during the first weekend of league play. The 6-foot-8 senior is averaging 11.1 points and 7.1 points overall, but he averaged 5.0 points and 4.0 rebounds last weekend in a split against Montana State and Montana.

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Another help on the boards could come from freshman Carson Shanks, who has scored all 12 of his season’s points against Montana State. Shanks, a 7-foot transfer from Utah State, became eligible for UND at the Christmas break.

He was held scoreless against Montana and Marquette, mostly due to foul trouble.

“Typical freshman,” Jones said. “He’s still shaking off the cobwebs after not playing for a year and a half. His future is bright 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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