Hawks use defense and free throws to bury Bears

UND captain Quinton Hooker shoots the ball over a Northern Colorado defender during Saturday’s win. Photo by Nick Nelson/The Dakota Student

After a shaky first half, the Fighting Hawks rallied in the second half to beat the University of Northern Colorado by a score of 74-73 Saturday afternoon.

The last three meetings between the Fighting Hawks and Bears have been decided by one point and Saturday was no exception. The difference is that UND came away with the victory this time.

“Every time we play them, It comes down to the last possession,” UND captain Quinton Hooker said.

The game looked like it would buck the recent trend of one-point games until UNC hit a half-court three pointer as time expired to make it 74-73.

The Fighting Hawks started the game strong and rushed out to a 12-6 lead. Then, the Hawks went cold. The Bears clamped down on defense and held UND to no points for almost six minutes. UNC pushed the lead to eight points during that time.

Right before halftime, UND found its offense and went on a 16-2 run to put the Fighting Hawks ahead 33-29.

In the second half, UND took over.

The team’s ball movement was excellent and it seemed as though they could always find someone open, which resulted in the Hawks scoring the first six points of the half. Even though UND led for most of the second half, UNC slowly chipped away at the fourteen point UND lead and made it close at the end.

“They started executing a little better,” Hooker said. “They got inside and got to the free-throw line so many times.”

The biggest plays at the end came from the free-throw line. UND went six of eight down the stretch at the charity stripe. Had they missed just one more, that last-second half court shot by UNC would’ve sent the game into overtime.

Although the Bears made a late surge to try and win the game, the Fighting Hawks finished the game strong.

“We got to see the team finish out a game, and have some success with that,” UND coach Brian Jones said. “That’s where they need to have the growth in this last stretch of the season.”

It became apparent very early on the Hawks were focused on causing as much havoc as they could on the defensive end of the court. They forced the Bears to turn the ball over a season high 23 times. UND did a wonderful job of taking advantage of Northern Colorado’s mistakes as the Hawks scored 21 points off turnovers.

Some aspects of the game did not come as easy though. Almost the whole game, UND struggled with hitting three pointers. They shot just 23 percent from the three point line. But all wasn’t lost as the Hawks’ bench did a good job picking them up and giving the team the boost it needed.

“The bench came in and gave us big minutes and got the lead back,” Jones said.

As he has done in many of UND’s games, Hooker led the way offensively with 26 points and four crucial points from the free-throw line as the game was in crunch time. Saturday marked his 10th game this season that he has scored 20 points or more.

The scoring came from just about everyone who touched the court for UND as eight of the nine players who played tallied points.

The Fighting Hawks take the court again at 7 p.m. Thursday,  at the Betty Engelstad Arena against Big Sky foe Portland State.

Adam Gunderman is a sports writer for The Dakota Student. He can be reached at [email protected]