RENO, Nev. – Top-seeded North Dakota used a blistering start to bury eighth-seeded Portland State 95-72 in Thursday’s first quarterfinal of the Big Sky Tournament. Senior Corey Baldwin led the way with his first career double-double, finishing with 18 points and a career-high 10 rebounds.
Baldwin was one of six Fighting Hawks (20-9) to finish in double figures as UND registered its first 20-win season at the Division I level. Classmate Quinton Hooker added 17 points and seven assists, while Geno Crandall chipped in with 15 points and also added seven assists.
“We talked about the start and the first six to eight minutes of the game being so important because of the way (Portland State) plays,” UND head coach Brian Jones said. “If you give them any life at all, they are going to run with it.
“I thought our defense was outstanding and then on offense, our ability to make the extra pass. That is who we have been, making the extra pass and Corey had a huge first half to really get us going.”
UND finished one shy of a season-high in assists with 22 and connected on 33-of-59 field goals in a victory that saw the Fighting Hawks equal the program's most points in a conference tournament game (vs. NDSU in 1981-82 North Central Conference title game).
Baldwin finished 6-for-7 from beyond the arc to lead an 11-for-20 effort by UND from distance. The Fighting Hawks have now advanced to the semifinal round in each of their four Big Sky Tournament appearances.
Sophomore Conner Avants, who finished with 10 points, opened the scoring with a pair of baskets down low then capped a 20-5 run over six-minute stretch with a dunk that put UND in the lead at 29-13. The Fighting Hawks made 12 of their first 14 field goals to aid those efforts and four of those connections came from 3-point land by Baldwin.
After the sizzling start by the Fighting Hawks, the Vikings were the team that finished the half strong as they trimmed what had grown to a 26-point deficit down to 14. A dunk by Crandall put UND up 49-23 with 4:22 to play, but UND would miss its final six shots from the field after starting 19-for-26 and the Vikings closed out the half on a 12-0 after back-to-back treys by Bryce Canda.
Those two treys by Canda were the first two of the half for the Vikings, who had missed their first eigth from beyond the arc. Baldwin led a 7-for-12 effort from deep by going 5-for-6 himself and finishing with 15 first-half points.
It wasn’t the blistering start that UND had in the first half, but the Fighting Hawks never saw their lead get lower than 12 the rest of the way.
Big Sky Reserve of the Year Cortez Seales had 11 of his 15 points in the second half as UND shot better than 50 percent from the floor in both stanzas. Seales went 3-for-3, while Junior Carson Shanks went 3-for-3 from the floor in both halves to finish with 12 points. Those two paced a 33-point bench effort by the Fighting Hawks, who shot 56 percent from the floor, while holding the Vikings to a 40-percent clip.
Seales was also perfect from the stripe where he went 5-for-5. UND only missed once from the foul line in the contest, finishing 18-for-19 from the foul line. Canda led the Vikings with 12 points, while Deontae North added 11.
UND will take on the winner of the No. 4 Idaho-No. 5 Montana matchup in Friday’s first semifinal at 7:35 p.m.
Noteables: North Dakota has now advanced to at least the semifinals in all four of its Big Sky Tournament appearances ... The victory provided UND with its first 20-win season as a Division I member (since 2008-09) ... The last UND team to post a 20-win season was the 2004-05 team that finished 20-10 ... The 95 points equal the program's most points in a conference tournament game set in the 1981-82 North Central Conference Tournament title game victory over North Dakota State ... Senior Corey Baldwin was 3-for-18 from 3-point land in UND's previous four games, but went 6-for-7 in this contest ... Senior Quinton Hooker moved into sixth place on UND's all-time scoring charts and now has 1,721 points after going for 17 in the quarterfinal-victory ... Hooked passed former UND legend and current New York Knicks' president Phil Jackson (1,708) on that list ... With seven assists in the win, sophomore Geno Crandall now has 23 assists (7.6/g) in the last three contests ... This was the third time this season UND had at least six players reach double figures ... UND is now 15-0 this season when scoring 80 or more points and 14-0 when shooting 50 percent or better from the field.
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