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MEN'S COLLEGE BASKETBALL: League favorite Idaho rolls past UND 74-57 in Big Sky opener

North Dakota's Marlon Stewart drives the lane as Idaho's Perrion Callandret and Jordan Scott defend Friday, Dec. 29, at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center in Grand Forks. Eric Hylden / Forum News Service1 / 2
North Dakota's Conner Avants' shot is blocked by Idaho's Nate Sherwood in the first half Friday, Dec. 29, in their game at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center in Grand Forks. Eric Hylden / Forum News Service2 / 2

GRAND FORKS—Exactly one year ago, the University of North Dakota men's basketball team opened its Big Sky Conference men's basketball season at Portland State. The Fighting Hawks were pummeled in that Dec. 29, 2018, game, 99-62.

On Friday, Dec. 29, 2017, the Hawks opened their 2017-18 Big Sky season and were roughed up by Idaho 74-57 before 1,597 fans at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center.

Last year, UND learned from that opening-game blowout. The Hawks regrouped and went on to win the Big Sky title.

So, the teaching moment after Idaho—the league preseason favorite—rolled past the Hawks was this: It's a long season and there is no reason to hit the panic button.

UND junior Geno Crandall was in the locker room a year ago when Portland rolled to the big win.

"I told the guys in the locker room that it's a long season," said Crandall. "There are times to learn and grow. As long as we're peaking in March, it will be OK.

"But this was a tough one, losing at home against a team I think we can compete with. A lot of that falls on me. I don't think I instilled in the guys the level of toughness, grit and energy it takes to win games against Big Sky teams.

"It's been a pretty good league in the past and this year it's really good, really veteran heavy. Being only one of the real veterans on the team, I have to do a better job of helping the young guys to understand what it takes. I'll take this one."

UND's downfall was its shooting against Idaho's zone defense. The Hawks shot 36 percent (15-42) and only 4-of-20 on 3-point attempts. There also was the matter of turnovers as UND committed 19, which led to 22 Idaho points.

It was nearly a complete turnaround from UND's Saturday, Dec. 16, game at nationally-ranked Gonzaga, which rallied in the closing minutes for an 89-83 overtime win over the Hawks.

UND was cold from the start and with three minutes left in the first half, the Hawks had managed only three field goals.

Idaho (1-0, 9-4) broke it open on back-to-back 3-pointers by Victor Sanders, baskets that gave the Vandals a 32-15 lead late in the first half.

"We played exceptionally well, especially defensively," said Idaho coach Don Verlin. "Our zone as active. Our game plan wasn't to play as much zone as we did, but it was working so we stayed with it.

"And we caught them on a cold shooting night."

UND (0-1, 4-8) was led by Marlon Stewart's 17 points—15 coming in the first half. Tray Buchanan, who found some late rhythm behind the arc, added 12 with Crandall finishing with 10.

Perrion Callandret led Idaho with 13 points. The Vandals, a mature, physical team, also outrebounded UND 35-21.

UND also played without 6-foot-8 senior Dale Jones, who injured his knee during Thursday's practice. It's not know how long Jones, who averaged 9.9 points and nearly seven rebounds, will be out of the lineup.

UND will take on Eastern Washington on Sunday, Dec. 31, at The Betty.

"Quite frankly, we have to have guys start making open shots," said UND coach Brian Jones. "They've shown in practice they can make them but it hasn't transferred over to games."

The UND coach also mentioned the lopsided Big Sky loss a year ago in Portland during a lengthy postgame meeting with his players.

"I challenged our guys," he said. "We were here a year ago. That game (in Portland) meant something to our guys in the locker room. They made it a point it wasn't going to happen again.

"This group is young; it's new. We have guys trying to figure it out. We have leaders trying to figure it out and lead better.

"We've seen glimpses (of good play). They just need to be consistent."

Wayne Nelson
Nelson is the sports editor of the Herald
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