RENO, Nev. -- Sophomore Marlon Stewart scored a career-high 29 points and North Dakota stormed back from a 19-point, second-half deficit to knock off Montana State 76-74 in the opening game of the 2018 Big Sky Men's Basketball Tournament Tuesday. Stewart scored 14 of his points and had three assists in a game-closing 31-10 stretch that spanned the final 10:09 of the contest. Sophomore Kienan Walter came off the bench to score 10 points and his five-foot jumper in the paint with seven seconds remaining provided the difference for UND.
The ninth-seeded Bobcats built their big lead on the strength of 13 3-pointers and 26 second-chance points, but the final 10 minutes belonged the eighth-seeded Fighting Hawks (12-19), who improved to 6-1 all-time at the Reno Events Center.
"I'm just so proud of this team. We showed a lot of heart and showed what level we can play at in those final 10 minutes," UND head coach Brian Jones said.
Junior Geno Crandall added 18 points for UND and his half-court buzzer beater before halftime appeared to switch the momentum to the Fighting Hawks, but the Bobcats grabbed it back by continuing what they did in the first half.
MSU senior Sam Neuman, who had 10 points and just his second double-figure scoring game of the season, opened the half with a 3-pointer and Konner Frey, who also added 10 points off the bench, capped a 14-3 run to give the Bobcats their largest lead at 64-45.
Joe Mvuezolo hit two 3-pointers in that stretch and Zach Green added another, but his triple would be the last one for the Bobcats, who went just 2-for-12 from the field after Frey's layup.
That's when Stewart took over, sparking an 11-0 run by the Fighting Hawks. He had seven of those points and assisted on another basket.
After a pair of free throws by Devonte Klines, who led five double-figures scorers for MSU with 16 points, pushed the lead back to 10, Stewart had seven points and two assists during a 12-2 run the squared things up at 68-68 with 2:38 to play. Stewart's second assist went to senior Dale Jones who evened things up with a triple, then gave UND its first lead of the game at 71-70 on UND's next trip with a 3-pointer from the same spot on the court.
The Bobcats would briefly regain the lead at 74-71 before Crandall tied things up at 74-74 with an old-fashioned 3-point play with just over a minute to play. UND forced a miss on MSU's ensuing possession before Walter provided the heroics.
"Marlon was tremendous and it was not just his scoring there at the end," Jones added. "We moved him onto the ball and put Geno off the ball and that opened things up for him to make some plays."
Stewart finished with a team-high five assists and went 7-for-9 from the foul stripe as he put together his fifth 20-point game of the season. His previous career-high was 24 in an overtime loss to Utah Valley early in the season.
UND ended up making 10 3-pointers of its own on 21 attempts and shot 46.6 percent from the field, while holding MSU to 39.4 percent. The Bobcats dominated the boards 43-33, but built that advantage in the first half (23-13).
The Fighting Hawks will take on top-seeded Montana in Thursday's opening quarterfinal matchup at 2:05 p.m. CT. The Grizzlies swept the regular-season series with the Fighting Hawks.
-- UND --