SPOKANE, Wash. -- The University of North Dakota entered The Kennel as a 30-point underdog against No. 12 Gonzaga. The Fighting Hawks also came in on a three-game losing streak and their overall play -- for a good portion of the nonconference season -- hadn’t been great.
A lot of that changed Saturday night, Dec. 16, as UND had last year’s national runner-up on the ropes. Gonzaga, with its size -- and more importantly depth -- rallied in the second half for an 89-83 overtime win over UND, which by far played its best game of the season. And it could also serve as a springboard for a UND run at another Big Sky Conference title as league play begins next week.
“It still stings,” said UND’s Cortez Seales after a roaring crowd of 6,000 fans helped the Zags stage a late rally. “We really feel we deserved that one. We had them where we wanted. It was just a couple of plays here and there.”
UND led for more than half the game. The Hawks frustrated the Bulldogs with their crisp offense that led to continued good looks at the basket. And, for a change, UND knocked down shots, finishing at 51.7 percent from the field and 9-of-23 from beyond the arc.
UND led 45-33 with 16:16 to play after Seales frustrated the Zags with another inside basket. But that’s about the time Gonzaga went to full-court pressure. The pressure helped take UND out of its offensive rhythm and sparked a 13-0 Gonzaga run that ended with a Rui Hachimura basket at 12:19 for a 46-45 lead.
UND, however, didn’t go away and managed to forge a 62-53 lead on a Geno Crandall 3-pointer with 5:54 left.
The Zags regained the lead at 66-64 on a hook shot by Johnathan Williams with 1:48 left. But Crandall hit a step-back 3-pointer with 1.9 seconds to go to tie the game at 69-69 and force overtime.
But 9-2 Gonzaga, led by Josh Perkins’ 20 points, had the advantage throughout overtime, scoring the first seven points. By then, UND’s lack of depth may have played a factor. UND’s five starters logged 38 or more minutes and only one reserve played more than 10 minutes.
Still, it was a satisfying night for UND, which was wrapping up its most demanding nonconference schedule in program history.
“We knew coming into this game that we could build an identity on a national stage,” said Crandall, who led UND with 28 points. “We wanted to come out and play tough and aggressive. We know that if we play the right way, we can play with anyone.
“Moving forward, this is something to build on. Nobody is as good as that team so hopefully we’ll be in good position come March.”
UND, which dropped to 4-7, received 23 points from Seales, 15 from Marlon Stewart and 14 from Dale Jones. The Hawks led for more than 24 minutes and their defense was solid throughout as they scored 18 points off 17 Gonzaga turnovers.
It was a performance UND was looking for since it ended last season with an appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
“It was the shot in the arm for us,” said UND coach Brian Jones. “We showed tonight that when we’re dialed in, good things can happen.
“We were invested for 40 minutes, not 30 minutes. When we’ve played the big opponents, we’ve been good for 30 minutes, not 40. Tonight, we were good for 40 minutes. In overtime, we got a little tired; we had some turnovers and we missed some shots.
“We challenged our guys tonight to not be out-toughed.”
And UND didn’t back down. The Hawks’ play drew praise from Gonzaga coach Mark Few.
“Every Division I team has good players and good plans,” said Few. “We let them get some belief after the first four minutes. They were out-hustling us to every 50-50 ball. They were finishing at the rim better than we were.
“They were in a position to win that game but we had a couple of guys who had some fight in them that turned up the heat and made some plays.
“We were lucky that game was at home. If that game had been somewhere else, I don’t know.”