Finally, a good night: UND upends Idaho State 81-57 for first Big Sky Conference win
GRAND FORKS — Nearly a month ago, University of North Dakota players left the McCarthey Athletic Center on the campus of Gonzaga University feeling pretty good. They just pushed No. 15 Gonzaga to the limit before falling in overtime.
With a performance like that, UND felt confident heading into Big Sky Conference play.
Somehow, UND players lost that feeling as the Hawks dropped their first four league games—all by double digits.
On Thursday night, Jan. 11, that feeling returned to UND. The Hawks—in a crisp, efficient performance on both ends of the court—downed Idaho State 81-58 at The Betty before 1,707 fans. UND improved to 1-4 in the Big Sky and 5-11 overall while Idaho State dropped to 3-1 and 8-7.
"It's about time," said UND junior Cortez Seales, who led UND with 14 points. "When we're playing as a unit, we're pretty good. We shared the ball early and often. That's what got it done."
The Hawks led for 37 minutes. They didn't have any big runs. Instead, they put quality possessions together, oftentimes finding the best shot in their offensive sets. Also, they played solid defense, holding Idaho State to 41 percent shooting and outrebounding the bigger Bengals 35-31.
A Marlon Stewart basket with 14:50 to go gave UND a 54-33 lead. UND never wavered from that point.
"They have it in them," said UND coach Brian Jones. "This is the team I know these guys can be when they're committed. That's been a process.When we see that they're committed, good things happen."
Jones was especially pleased with the Hawks' defense.
"When someone got beat, we had someone there to help them out," he said. "That jump-started our offense. And we did an unbelievable job of sharing the ball."
Idaho State, led by 7-footer Novak Topalovic's 12 points, led for 37 seconds early in the game. The Bengals' post player scored the game's first basket.
UND didn't score on its first two possessions, prompting Jones to call a timeout at the 18:38 mark of the first half.
"It caught us off guard," said Seales. "It was a quick timeout and much needed. "We just had to lock in. Coach has been preaching to get out early and play well. He didn't see that from us early."
UND was steady the rest of the way, forging a 41-29 halftime lead. UND's defense was especially solid in the final 10 minutes of the first half, holding the Bengals to 1-of-5 shooting and forcing seven turnovers.
UND had seven players score nine or more points. Conner Avants and Stewart finished with 13 points each while Dale Jones added 11. Geno Crandall, Billy Brown and Tray Buchanan all finished with nine.
"Our bench gave us great minutes on both sides of the ball," said Jones. "Geno was sick tonight and was nowhere near himself but other guys stepped up and led the charge."
UND improved to 11-0 all time against the Bengals in Big Sky play.
The Hawks, who broke an eight-game losing streak in the process, will host perennial league power Weber State on Saturday.