Orem, Utah — North Dakota’s Josh Schuler (Urbana, Ohio) picked a good time to hit the first game-winning shot of his life. The redshirt freshman buried a 3-pointer with 2.2 seconds remaining in the second overtime to give the third-seeded Fighting Sioux men's basketball team a 77-76 victory over fourth-seeded South Dakota in the title game of the 2011 Great West Conference Tournament presented by Pepsi.
The Sioux (19-14) erased a four-point deficit in the final 15 seconds of the second extra session to secure their first Division I conference title in program history and first league title of any kind since winning the North Central Conference crown during 1993-94 season.
Schuler, who sat out the first nine-plus minutes of the extra sessions, subbed in just seconds before drilling the game-winning basket from the left baseline.
“Our original plan was to go for the two and tie it, but Jamal did his job and drove it in the paint,” Schuler said of the final play. “Two guys collapsed on him and he kicked it to me and I was fortunate enough to knock down the shot.”
Schuler’s heroics were possible because both teams did not want a tournament that saw its six games decided by a total of 11 points come to an end. The Coyotes extended a wild, back-and-forth game at the UCCU Center in Orem, Utah beyond regulation thanks to the play of senior guard Kendall Cutler.
The Brooklyn, N.Y. native stole an inbounds pass with his team trailing by two and made an off-balance shot near the end of the second half to make it a 50-50 contest. Cutler was fouled on the play, but his free throw was off the mark giving the Sioux a chance to win it.
UND freshman Troy Huff (Milwaukee, Wis.), who led the Sioux with 15 points, could not attack the rim as planned and settled for a 3-point attempt that went short as the buzzer sounded, sending the championship game into overtime.
The long-time rivals had never met in a conference title game before, but the two squads made their final matchup as conference foes a memorable one. USD will join the Summit League next season and the Sioux will join the Big Sky in 2012-13.
Junior Patrick Mitchell (Des Moines, Iowa) was named the Tournament MVP and had seven points in the first overtime as he helped the Sioux build a 60-52 advantage with 90 seconds to play, but Cutler and company would squash any thoughts of a premature celebration.
It took all 90 seconds, but USD pulled even when junior Louie Krogman’s last-second, 3-pointer, finally fell through the net after hanging on the rim for what seemed like an eternity.
Krogman’s bucket made it a 65-65 contest entering the second overtime.
The teams were tied at 72-72 late in the second overtime when Cutler scored his career-high 23rd and 24th points of the game on a driving layup to put the Coyotes ahead. The Sioux had a couple of chances to tie on their ensuing possession, but could not find their mark. Sophomore Jake Thomas was fouled with 15 seconds left and calmly hit two free throws to put USD ahead by four points.
There was still plenty of drama to come as a four-point UND deficit did not deter the upstart Sioux from trying to make history despite Aaron Anderson (Brooklyn Park, Minn.) being whistled for an offensive foul. Fortunately, no free throws were awarded after Anderson’s foul and a back-court violation by USD gave life back to the Sioux.
Freshman Jamal Webb (Buffalo, N.Y.) raced down the court for an easy layup to cut the deficit in half with nine ticks remaining. The Sioux would foul Cutler, who went to the line with a chance to ice the game. The Coyote veteran saw his first attempt spin out and he left his second one short, leaving time for Schuler’s last-second heroics.
Webb, who had his first career double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds, took the inbounds pass and drew a pair of Coyote defenders before setting up Schuler in the corner for one of the biggest makes in Fighting Sioux basketball history.
“We probably could not have scripted this any better,” UND head coach Brian Jones said. “We have been in a lot of different situations this season, but we had not had some one step up and make a game-winning shot. That happened today and I could not be more proud of this team.”
Overtime seemed like a far-fetched idea after UND trailed at the half 24-14. Despite the season-low, first-half scoring output, the Sioux made certain the deficit was not insurmountable.
Schuler had four points in the opening two mintues of the second half and a 16-6 run made it a 30-30 contest just over six minutes into the second half.
UND would actually build a seven-point advantage after an Anderson layup with just over seven minutes left in regulation, but the Coyotes would not go away. Thomas buried a deep 3-pointer from well beyond 25-feet with under a minute to play. After a turnover by the Sioux, Cutler tied it with his off-balance floater.
Cutler, who was last year’s GWC Tournament MVP, finished with a career-high 24 points and Krogman added 17. Junior Ricardo Androtti helped the Yotes hold a 56-47 advantage on the glass with a career-high 17 boards. Thomas finished with just 11 points after scoring only 13 points in the two regular-season meetings. UND defeated the Coyotes three times in season for the sixth time in program history.
The Fighting Sioux will now face Air Force on Tuesday in Colorado Springs in the opening round of CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament.
Huff joined Mitchell on the all-tournament team and his first basket of the game put him on top of UND’s all-time freshman scoring list, surpassing UND Hall of Famer Scott Guldseth. Huff’s 15 points pushed his season total to 432 points. Guldseth scored 418 point during his rookie season (1989-90).
- Go Sioux -