GRAND FORKS, N.D. – Forward Patrick Mitchell’s (Des Moines, Iowa) final collegiate shot in his home building hit all net as the buzzer sounded, lifting North Dakota to a 57-56 victory over Utah Valley on Saturday at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center.
Mitchell, who was honored in a Senior Day ceremony before the game along with classmate Mike Mathison (Walhalla, N.D.), only scored four points in the contest, but his final two dealt the Wolverines (20-11, 9-1 GWC) their first Great West Conference loss of the season and clinched the No. 2 seed for UND (15-14, 6-4 GWC) at the upcoming league tournament.
UVU sophomore Ben Aird converted a three-point play with 7.8 seconds left on the clock to put his team up 56-55. That set the stage for Mitchell’s heroics.
Sophomore Aaron Anderson (Brooklyn Park, Minn.) raced down the court and got a runner off, but it rattled around the rim and fell off. The loose ball ended up in Mitchell’s hands and before the buzzer went off, his shot from just inside the free throw line swished through the net sending his coaches, teammates and a crowd of 1,903 into a frenzy.
“Today was a great basketball environment,” UND head coach Brian Jones said. “The crowd was great, the game was great and for a senior to make his last shot in a building he has played in for the past four seasons in a situation like that is something special.”
These teams are no strangers to close contests, especially in Grand Forks. The Wolverines overcame a nine-point deficit in the closing minutes last season to force overtime and eventually won a quadruple-overtime affair.
This time around, UVU overcame a seven-point deficit down the stretch as Aird capped an 11-3 run to give the visitors their first lead since a 37-36 advantage early in the second half. But Mitchell, who missed a similar shot last season at the regulation buzzer to beat the Wolverines, made this one count.
“There is no better way to end my home career,” Mitchell said. “I struggled with my shot throughout the game, but that one felt better than any of them when I released it and one finally went down.”
The win was the fourth in a row for UND, who also snapped a 13-game winning streak for the Wolverines.
Sophomore Troy Huff (Milwaukee, Wis.) was a one-man juggernaut for the Sioux in the first half as they built a 34-30 lead at the break. The sophomore scored 12 of his game-high 14 points in the opening 20 minutes when he also added five steals and four offensive rebounds.
Huff’s defense throughout the game also helped limit the Great West Conference’s leading scorer, Isaih Williams, to only eight points on 2-of-15 shooting from the field. Williams and the Wolverines could never find a rhythm in either half, but the reigning GWC Player of the Week did stake his team to its largest lead of the game after Jones was whistled for a technical foul.
Williams, who was fouled on the play preceding the technical, made four straight free throws and Aird capped a quick 6-0 run with a layup to put UVU ahead 27-21 with just over seven minutes to play in the first half.
Sophomore Jamal Webb (Buffalo, N.Y.) cut the deficit in half with a 3-pointer, sparking a 13-4 run by the home team to close the half. Classmate Brandon Brekke (East Grand Forks, Minn.) capped the run with a layup.
After UVU’s Keith Thompson put his team ahead 37-36 early in the second half, UND would regain the lead on a Jordan Allard (Fargo, N.D.) putback. Mitchell added a tip-in on the next possession and the Sioux would lead the rest of the way until Aird’s three-point play in the closing seconds.
Aird finished with 14 points to lead UVU, while senior Geddes Robinson added 11 points and a game-high nine rebounds. The Wolverines held a 41-37 edge on the glass in a game that featured 31 offensive rebounds.
Both teams shot lower than 40 percent from the field as both teams posted season-low point totals in GWC play.
Brekke scored 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting from the floor to lead a 26-7 edge in scoring by the UND bench. Sophomore Lenny Antwi (Montreal, Quebec) hit some big shots for the second straight game, finishing with seven points, while Allard added six to go with seven rebounds.
UND will find out its opening-round opponent for the GWC Tournament later this evening, but with the No. 2 seed in hand, the Sioux will play in the second semifinal next Friday in Chicago at 2:30 p.m. CT.
– UND –