Wayne Nelson / Forum News Service, Published March 14 2013
UND wins its first-round game at Big Sky men's basketball tournamentMISSOULA, Mont. _ In the first two minutes of the second half, UND Troy Huff hit a 3-pointer and slammed home another of his patented break-away dunks.
"We took that energy and ran with it the rest of the game," said UND's Aaron Anderson.
Huff's spurt _ and UND's ensuing energy _ resulted in UND's commanding 69-52 win against Southern Utah on Thursday night in the first round of the Big Sky Conference tournament at Dahlberg Arena.
UND's challenge tonight will be finding a way to take down powerful Weber State in the semifinal round. Weber, the No. 2 seed, rolled past Northern Arizona 84-58 in the day's first game.
For No. 3 seed UND, however, its ability to win games in March continued under seventh-year coach Brian Jones. During the past two-plus seasons, the Green and White are 11-2 in March. But tonight's game against Weber will be UND's biggest challenge in the program's Division I era.
UND shot 65 percent in the second half to make up for a lackluster first half, which saw North Dakota take a 28-25 lead into the locker room.
"Both teams were really tight in the first half," Jones said. "But toward the end of the first half we found our rhythm defensively and got some energy buckets. In the second half, we got some more buckets off of our defense. And we really shared the ball well. That led to some good rhythm 3-pointers."
Huff's five quick points were the start of a 23-7 run that ended on the second of Lenni Antwi's back-to-back 3-pointers, which gave UND a 51-32 lead with 11:25 to go.
UND went 7-for-11 on 3-pointers in the second half. Nothing fell for SUU, which shot 29 percent for the game.
But UND's defense had a lot to do with that.
UND beat SUU twice this season and lost once. The time UND lost, both Jackson Stevenett and Damon Heuir had big games. UND's goal was to not let both get into a rhythm. Stevenett finished with 15 points, but Heuir had only eight _ most coming after the game was decided.
"They were physical with us," Stevenett said. "They were playing team basketball. If we got past someone, there was always someone there contesting the shot."
Huff led UND with 15 points while Anderson added 14. Mitch Wilmer, in his best game of his carrer, ended with 11 points _ including an acrobatic reverse layup. And he pulled down 14 rebounds. Josh Schuler and Antwi each added 10.
UND's start, however, was sluggish. The No. 6-seeded Thunderbirds led 11-5 with 12:42 left in the first half.
"They had more energy than we did early," Jones said. "But you have to generate your own energy. We had a 3-point lead at hafltime. And if we didn't win, our season was over. We needed to set the tone."
Huff accomplished that with his energetic play in the opening minutes of the second half.
"Our game plan was to run the offense and play good defense because defense leads to offense," Huff said. "Everyone was hitting tonight. It was a good shooting night for our team."