CHICAGO - The North Dakota men's basketball team overcame a 16-point deficit en route to posting a dramatic 63-59 victory over Texas-Pan American on Friday in semifinal action at the Great West Conference Tournament. The second-seeded Sioux faced their largest of the game after the third-seeded Broncs made the opening basket of the second half, but the reigning tournament champs never relented.
"I challenged them at halftime because UTPA was making all the energy plays, getting to every loose ball," UND head coach Brian Jones said. "We were on our heels ... But, give our guys an amazing amount of credit though for regrouping."
Sophomore Jamal Webb (Buffalo, N.Y.) scored a game-high 19 points and made back-to-back baskets in the closing two minutes to make sure his squad reached the GWC title game for the second straight season. Webb's second bucket in that stretch put the Sioux back ahead at 58-57.
After the Broncs missed a deep attempt from 3-point range, classmate Aaron Anderson (Brooklyn Park, Minn.) converted a three-point play the old-fashioned way with 11 seconds remaining to all but the seal the victory. UTPA's Brandon Provost made a driving lay-up, but Anderson answered with two free throws to push the lead back to four, which is where it would end up at the final horn.
Anderson finished with 12 points, while Troy Huff (Milwaukee, Wis.) added 17 points and had five steals for the second straight game. Webb also added four steals as UND equaled its season high with 12 thefts.
"We won this game because of the way we guarded in (the second half)," Jones added. "We were up 24 points at the half on them at our place, so our guys knew we could make a run. We challenged them to win every four-minute game and I think we did."
The sophomore trio helped turn 19 UTPA turnovers into 21 points for the game and the defense allowed a season-low 22 points after the break.
Things looked bleak, however, heading into the lockerroom despite a nice start to the game by UND. Junior Mitch Wilmer (Warroad, Minn.) capped an 8-0 run with a layup at the 8:18 mark, putting the Sioux ahead 23-17, but that would be the final basket of the half for the higher seed.
The Sioux would go cold, missing their next six shots from the field, while the Broncs heated up. UTPA closed the half on a 20-0 run thanks to a 7-for-8 stretch from the floor. That made it a 37-23 contest at the break. UND had only come back from a halftime deficit to win once before this season (vs. NDSU, trailed 27-23).
After a miss on their opening possession, the Sioux saw their deficit balloon to 16 after Aaron Urbanus connected for the Broncs with just under a minute gone in the second half. Webb missed a 3-pointer the next time down the floor, but he created a turnover with a ball steal and sophomore Brandon Brekke (East Grand Forks, Minn.) sparked what would turn into a 25-5 run over the next 12 minutes with a layup.
Brekke scored back-to-back baskets to tie the game at 44-44 with just over nine minutes to play and the Sioux would stretch the lead back to six at 50-44 before Provost silenced the run with his fourth 3-pointer of the game.
The Broncs, who had just three field goals in the first 15 minutes of the half, finally found their range making three straight to reclaim the lead at 52-50.
Provost broke a 54-54 tie with his fifth trifecta from the corner. Nick Weirmiller missed the front end of a one-and-one and Brekke quickly rebounded the miss, feeding Webb, who went coast-to-coast for a layup.
Brekke went to the boards again after UTPA missed a short jumper, giving UND a chance to take the lead back. This time Webb went to the offensive glass for the go-ahead basket. Anderson had a floater just roll off, but the Buffalo native scooped up the loose ball, split two defenders and made his ninth field goal of the game.
Weirmiller tried a deep 3-pointer that was way off the mark on UTPA's next possession and that set the stage for Anderson to ice the game with five points in the final 11 seconds of play.
Provost finished with a team-high 17 points, while Jesus Delgado scored all of his 13 points in the first half.
Brekke pulled down a game-high nine rebounds to go with six points. UTPA held the edge on the glass at 32-26.
UND will take on fourth-seeded NJIT in the championship game at 4 p.m. CT on Saturday. The Highlanders knocked off top-seeded Utah Valley in overtime in the first seminal.
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