RENO, Nev.. -- Top-seeded North Dakota advanced to its first NCAA Division I Tournament with a thrilling 93-89 overtime win over Weber State in the Big Sky Conference Tournament title game Saturday evening at the Reno Events Center. Senior Quinton Hooker finished with a game-high 28 points, part of six players in double figures for UND.
The program-changing victory came against a Weber State (19-13) squad that had knocked UND (22-9) out of all three of its previous Big Sky Tournament appearances. This time the result was different.
"Unbelievable," UND head coach Brian Jones said. "What a resilient bunch of players, who never lost faith that we were going to come out with a victory. We put this team together for this very day."
UND rallied back from down 11 in the second half to force the extra frame. Once there, big baskets by Geno Crandall and Hooker helped North Dakota outscore the Wildcats in the overtime session.
Crandall forced overtime with a driving layup with only seven seconds to play after the Fighting Hawks trailed by six with 51 seconds to go. Hooker had the first four points during that spurt to will his team back.
Crandall finished with 17 points, equaled his career-high with nine rebounds and added seven assists. Crandall also had three steals, including one in overtime that sealed the win for the Fighting Hawks.
Senior Corey Baldwin added 10 points and joined Hooker on the all-tournament team. He had nine of those in a first half that saw UND take a 46-42 lead at the break despite trailing by 10 in that half as well.
Sophomore Conner Avants had 10 of his 13 points in the first half and made the first four field goals for UND, who saw an early 8-7 lead quickly evaporate into a 20-10 deficit.
Sophomroe Cortez Seales added nine of his 12 points down the back end of the first half and was part of a six-minute stretch where the Fighting Hawks made eight-consecutive field goals to claim the halftime advantage.
Weber State's Jeremy Senglin finished with 26 points and became the program's all-time scoring leader, but after sending UND home in the Big Sky Tournament semifinals a season ago, the senior's late-game heroics did not douse the Fighting Hawks this time. He went 12-for-13 from the free throw line to lead a 31-for-39 effort by the Wildcats and had half of his team's 3-pointers.
Senglin had 10-consecutive points in a stretch early in the second half that allowed Weber State to reclaim the advantage and push that to as much as 11 before UND pulled off a comeback for the ages.
Junior Drick Bernstine added 11 points and nine rebounds for UND, who had six players reach double figures for the second time in the tournament.
UND overcame some rare struggles from the charity stripe, going just 21-for-31. After a 7-for-15 start, the Fighting Hawks made 14 of their final 16, including a 6-for-6 effort in overtim, to help aid the comeback and eventual victory.
North Dakota will learn its opponent in "The Big Dance" on Sunday evening when the brackets are announced.
-- UND --