GRAND FORKS - It's never good to get beat at the buzzer, as the University of North Dakota did last week when Northern Colorado's Andre Spight hit a half-court shot at the horn to give the Bears a 94-91 overtime win over the Fighting Hawks.
However, the sting of that loss was eased a bit by UND's overall play. For the fourth consecutive game, UND's overall performance was solid-giving hope that the Hawks have turned the corner as the Big Sky Conference season nears the halfway mark.
UND returned home Sunday afternoon from the loss in Greeley, Colo., only to take off 48 hours for another Big Sky trip this week-Thursday, Jan. 25, at Eastern Washington and Saturday, Jan. 27, at Idaho.
"During the last stretch of games, we've played a lot better," said UND's Conner Avants, whose late putback forced overtime at UNC. "We're a completely different team than we were in the first half of the season."
UND is 2-5 in the Big Sky and 7-12 overall. Eastern Washington, which beat UND at The Betty to open Big Sky play, is 4-3 and 9-11.
It's still relatively early in the league season and only Montana (7-0, 14-5) has distinguished itself as the team to beat. Parity appears to be dominating the rest of the league, which is good for UND because of its slow start.
The Hawks, however, have shot the ball well for the past five games and have gone 3-2 in that stretch.
"We finally showed some resolve," UND coach Brian Jones said of the Hawks' trip to Greeley. "We competed. We were down 11 in that game. Two weeks ago, that deficit probably goes to 20. We're starting to understand urgency and focus."
Geno Crandall scored 30 points at UNC, his second 30-plus point performance of the season. Crandall also averages 2.0 steals in Big Sky play, which ranks second in the league.
After Montana, only three games separate the bulk of the Big Sky teams. And the schedule becomes a little more favorable for the Hawks after this week's trip to Eastern Washington and Idaho, which is second in the league.
UND will play five of its next seven league games at The Betty, beginning with next week's games against Montana State and Montana.
"I watched our game film from Northern Colorado and how far we've come in the past few weeks is a credit to our guys and how hard they've worked," Jones said.