OGDEN, Utah – The North Dakota men’s basketball team will have a chance to dance after defeating fifth-seeded Portland State 79-63 in Friday’s first semifinal of the Big Sky Tournament at the Dee Events Center. Senior Aaron Anderson had 19 points and classmate Troy Huff added 18 as UND never trailed in the contest and had a double-digit lead for a majority of the game.
The postseason conference tournament title game will be the third in four years for UND (17-15), who won two Great West titles in 2011 and 2012 before joining the Big Sky last season. This will be the first opportunity for the program to make the NCAA Tournament after the five-year transition period to the Division I level was completed following the 2011-12 academic year.
“We were dialed in on the defensive end for 40 minutes tonight and also valued the basketball,” UND head coach Brian Jones said. “That was the key in this one. We got off to a good start offensively and never relented.”
Seniors Alonzo Traylor and Jaron Nash dominated down low early in the game, starting a combined 8-for-9 from the field as UND raced out to a 22-11 advantage in the opening eight minutes of play. The Vikings would never get the deficit back to single digits before the half as the Green and White built a 39-25 lead at the break.
Nash finished the stanza with 11 points, while Traylor added eight and UND outscored Kyle Richardson and company 28-10 in the paint. UND finished the half 15-for-29 from the field, while holding the Vikings to just a 33 percent clip (7-for-21).
UND’s lead would hover just above double digits for the opening 10 minutes of the second half, but DeShaun Wiggins would briefly pull PSU within nine at 62-53 on a 3-point play. UND would quickly end any thoughts of a Vikings’ comeback, however, putting the game away with a 15-3 run that saw Anderson and Huff combine for 13 of those points.
“I’m excited for these seniors to get this opportunity (to play in a title game),” Jones added. “These guys chose us knowing we were a transitioning program and this is what they have worked so hard for over the past four seasons. We’re not satisfied though. We want to get one more.”
UND cooled off from the floor in the second half after hitting 52 percent of its shots in the opening 20 minutes, but the higher-seed went 28-for-35 from the charity stripe, including a 20-for-25 clip after halftime to never let the Vikings get back in it.
Huff went 12-for-15 from the stripe, while Anderson was 5-for-6. Classmate Jamal Webb added eight points and was 4-for-4 from the stripe.
Junior Gary Winston led four Vikings in double figures with 14 points, but PSU shot only 39 percent from the floor in the loss that snapped a four-game winning streak. Richardson added 13 points, but only came up with eight boards after getting 14 in the last meeting with UND.
It was a collective effort for UND on the glass as four players each came up with six rebounds. The advantage was 41-29, which included 18 offensive boards and 22 second-chance points.
UND will play the winner of the Weber State-Northern Colorado semifinal that immediately followed its game.
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