The University of North Dakota men’s basketball team picked up their first ever Summit League tournament win thanks to some big-time defending, clutch shooting and a whole lot of grit.
North Dakota was a fairly heavy underdog heading into their matchup with no. 3 seed South Dakota. Not only was USD a better team all season long, but the tournament is held in Sioux Falls, approximately an hour from the USD campus. In order to pull off an upset and keep their NCAA tournament hopes alive, UND would have to compete from the jump, bring the energy, defend as a team, knockdown clutch shots and fight off a nearly all South Dakota crowd. It was a tall order, but the Hawks were up to the task.
For the first eight minutes of the game, everything was going North Dakota’s way. They punched South Dakota in the mouth, jumping out to a surprising and seemingly overwhelming 21-7 lead behind Herculean shot making from senior point guard Marlon Stewart.
Stewart was unconscious in the first stint of the game. He connected on three of his first four attempts from behind the arc and knocked down two free throws, notching an uber-quick 11 points. It looked like it was going to be his night until the foul bug bit him.
Foul trouble plagued Stewart after his hot start. He picked up his second foul with 9:48 left in the first half after getting tangled up on the elbow. Stewart wasn’t actually the one that initiated the contact, but as it so often is in these situations, it was the second guy that got caught. UND head coach Paul Sather showed everyone how much trust he has in his senior floor general, leaving him in the game for a short stretch.
For the rest of the half, Sather did a nice job of using situational substitutions to help get Stewart into halftime without picking up his third foul. Stewart also deserves a massive amount of credit for defending hard without fouling.
Stewart wasn’t the only Hawk in foul trouble. De’Sean Allen-Eikens, Filip Rebraca and Kienan Walter all had two fouls going into halftime. With UND struggling with foul trouble, USD was able to claw its way back in the first half, tying the game up at 38.
Another reason the Coyotes were able to get back in the game before heading into the break was the outstanding play of Stanley Umude. The junior guard was a huge problem for the Hawks in the first half. He was impactful on both offense and defense, proving he was the most dominant player in the game for the first 20 minutes.
It was disappointing that UND let their huge lead slip away, but a tie ball game at halftime isn’t a bad thing when you’re the underdog. The Hawks were still in good shape.
South Dakota turned up the pressure in the second half. They opened the period on a demoralizing 7-0 run. At that point, the crowd was completely rejuvenated. It felt like everything was crumbling for UND.
The Hawks hung tough, though. They never let the game slip out of striking distance. They hovered around South Dakota, waiting for their time to take over. As it turned out, that time was in the final five minutes when UND was down 69-60. From that point on, the game tilted in favor of UND.
North Dakota was able to get back in the game by attacking the rim relentlessly. De’Sean Allen-Eikens was getting to the hoop and drawing fouls at will and Marlon Stewart was doing a brilliant job of putting his team in position to take high-percentage shots. The Hawks would soon go on a 10-0 run and take a 70-69 lead, completely flipping the script on the Coyotes.
South Dakota would regain the lead one minute later after sinking two huge free-throws with 1:10 left in the game. The Coyotes forced Stewart into a tough three on the subsequent possession, putting them in a really good position to win the game and advance to the semifinals. This is where an unlikely hero stepped up for North Dakota, though.
With approximately 25 seconds left in the game and the Coyotes up one, UND freshman Brady Danielson was caught in a tough matchup in the post. Instead of getting overpowered and scored on, he held his ground and drew a charge against South Dakota senior Tyler Peterson. At that point, it was the biggest play of the game. But that title would go to a different play only 15 seconds later.
After forcing the turnover, UND called a timeout and drew up a play for their best player, Marlon Stewart. The Hawks got the ball to Stewart and cleared out, letting him survey the floor. A few seconds later, Eikens came out to set a screen for Stewart, forcing a defensive switch. Now, with the slower (but longer) Umede on him, Stewart knew he had his shot. He used a series of crossover dribbles to get Umede on his heels and then calmly pulled up from about 17 feet away. Swish.
The Hawks were able to hang on, beating the Coyotes 74-71. Next up for Stewart and Co. is a Purdue Fort Wayne team eager to keep its Cinderella hopes alive.