GRAND FORKS, N.D. – It was only fitting that the North Dakota player with the strongest ties to the storied UND-North Dakota State basketball rivalry came through with the biggest performance on Tuesday night.
Sophomore forward Brandon Brekke (East Grand Forks, Minn.), whose father, uncle and aunt all played in the rivalry for UND, led all players with 17 points to carry his team to a 59-54 victory. The game was the first between the two rivals in Grand Forks in eight years and drew 7,169 vociferous fans to Ralph Engelstad Arena.
"I am just so proud of this team, especially our seniors who got a chance to taste victory in this rivalry," UND head coach Brian Jones said. "Our guys never give in and tonight was not any different. The crowd was electric and hopefully this will keep them coming back."
UND improved to 8-9 overall, while the Bison fell to 13-5 following a game that witnessed 11 lead changes and eight ties. The different home venue did not keep the team from improving its record in those tilts to 8-1 on the campaign.
Brekke finished 8-for-11 from the field, but nailed arguably his biggest basket from the free throw line. With the teams deadlocked at 52-52 with 2:14 remaining, Brekke drained the front end of a pair of free throw shots after a flagrant foul, giving UND the lead for good.
Senior Patrick Mitchell (Des Moines, Iowa) extended the lead to 55-52 with just 54 seconds left, putting back his own miss to give his squad what was then its largest lead of the game.
Sophomore guards Aaron Anderson (Brooklyn Park, Minn.) and Josh Schuler (Urbana, Ohio) secured the win when each hit a pair of free throws in the final 18 seconds.
“That last four minute game was the key to the victory,” Jones said. “Our guys played smart basketball and made the plays they needed to in order for us to get a signature win like this.”
Anderson and Schuler finished with 12 and 11 points, respectively, while Jamal Webb (Buffalo, N.Y.) added a team-leading seven rebounds and five assists to go with his three points.
Schuler’s 11 points came off the UND bench and was his first double-digit scoring game in 10 contests. Sophomore Marshall Borklund led NDSU with 13 points, and reserve guard Mike Felt added 12 - on all on 3-point baskets.
UND shot 42 percent (21-for-50) from the field, while the Bison connected on a season-low 32.8 percent (19-58). It was the second straight contest UND held a team to a season-low shooting effort and point total (Valley City State).
The Bison took a four-point lead into halftime thanks to a jumper by freshman Lawrence Alexander, who was just inside the arc when his shot went through with two seconds to play to make it a 27-23 contest. Neither team shot well in the opening 20 minutes as UND made just 9-of-23 attempts from the floor, while NDSU went 10-for-28.
Brekke, who made his first five shots from the floor, finished the half 6-for-7 to keep UND within striking distance. As efficient as Brekke was from the floor, he missed his three free throw attempts as UND connected on only 4-for-9 from the stripe, while NDSU went 4-for-4 in the opening 20 minutes.
NDSU led by as many as five points on six occasions, but the visitors’ lead would never grow larger as UND always had an answer. Schuler sparked the final lead change with a 3-pointer at the 5:50 mark and reserve center Mitch Wilmer (Warroad, Minn.) capped a 7-0 run with two big free throws. UND went 8-for-11 from the stripe in the second half.
The Bison tied it one more time at 52-52, but Webb registered one of his three steals in the victory setting up a fast break chance for Brekke, who was intentionally fouled on the play. He made his only free throw of the night to give UND the lead for good.
All five starters for UND had at least five boards as the home team edged the visitors 36-35 in that category.
UND opens Great West Conference play this Saturday at Utah Valley. Tipoff is at 8 p.m. CT.
– UND –