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UND MEN'S BASKETBALL: UND relies on defense in 71-61 win

UND has won five of its last seven men's basketball games -- a surge that is the result of an improved defense. Since its trip to Kansas on New Year's Eve, UND has allowed more than 63 points just twice. And one of those games came against powerf...

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UND has won five of its last seven men's basketball games -- a surge that is the result of an improved defense.

Since its trip to Kansas on New Year's Eve, UND has allowed more than 63 points just twice. And one of those games came against powerful New Mexico.

UND's defense again stood out Saturday in the Green and White's 71-61 win against Chicago State in a Great West Conference game before 1,844 fans at The Betty. And that defense now becomes even more important as UND will play its next six games on the road -- four of them league contests.

"We work on it every day," said UND's Patrick Mitchell, who led the way with 18 points. "It makes it real easy when you have all five guys talking and have each other's back. We had guards blocking shots and guys rotating. It was good team defense."

UND improved to 2-1 in the league and 10-10 overall. But UND could never put away the Cougars, a 2-19 team that has played 15 of its 21 games on the road. UND didn't finish well, either, as it failed to put an exclamation point on the game after leading 66-50 with 3½ minutes to play.

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"We relaxed," UND coach Brian Jones said. "We're pleased with the win, but not with our lack of focus. They kept coming at us with multiple defenses and we haven't seen that a lot. Our guys did a nice job when we needed to but we should have finished stronger."

UND didn't get the crowd-pleasing run. But its defense was solid throughout, holding the Cougars to 37 percent shooting.

"Our defense has improved because of the fact that we've had more practice," Jones said. "We're so front-loaded with games to start the year. We literally had one day a week where we had a solid practice. Now, we have two or three days of practice. We're defending at a whole different level than we were in December."

In Thursday's league win against New Jersey Institute of Technology, all five UND starters landed in double figures. Against Chicago State, four were in double digits. After Mitchell, Brandon Brekke finished with 16, Troy Huff 15 and Jamal Webb 10.

Huff's hard work on the boards (10 rebounds) helped UND climb out of its lone funk of the game. Lee Fisher (20 points) led the Cougars to within seven (46-39) with 11:41 to play. Two minutes later, Huff tipped in a rebound for a 53-42 advantage. He then went coast-to-coast for a layup and added a free throw for a 56-42 lead with eight minutes to play.

Now, UND faces its biggest challenge of the season.

UND has yet to win a road game and its next four are at Houston Baptist, Texas-Pan American, New Jersey Tech and Chicago State. After that, it's on to Louisiana Tech and Longwood, Va.

UND's defense will be tested.

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"When we've played at a high level, against Montana, South Dakota State and Idaho State, it's because we guarded," Jones said. "We played well because we defended as a team. We have to defend the way we're capable of to have a chance on the road."

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