GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- The North Dakota men's basketball team will go for the sweep of its first Big Sky homestand Saturday when undefeated Southern Utah visits the Betty for a 4:05 p.m. CT tip-off. The T-Birds have won back-to-back league road games to open conference play are led by Todd Simon, who is one of two rookie head coaches in the Big Sky this season (Jeff Linder, Northern Colorado).
UND VS. SOUTHERN UTAH SERIES
All-time: UND leads 6-3
In Grand Forks: UND leads 2-1
Big Sky Regular Season: UND leads 4-3
Big Sky Tournament: UND leads 2-0
Last Meeting: UND 85, SUU 80 (Mar. 8, 2016)
UND Head Coach Brian Jones vs. SUU: 6-3
SUU Head Coach Todd Simon vs. UND: First Meeting
WHERE TO WATCH/LISTEN/TRACK
TV: Fox Sports North Plus/FCS Central
Live Video Stream: www.WatchBigSky.com
Radio: 1440 AM (Grand Forks) | 740 AM (Fargo/Moorhead)
Live Audio Stream: www.UNDSports.com and UND Sports Mobile App
Live Stats: www.UNDSports.com
IN THE PAINT...
• Both teams are coming off tight victories on Thursday when the Fighting Hawks held off Northern Arizona for a 68-63 victory and the Thunderbirds used a late jumper to rally by Northern Colorado 78-76.
• UND owns a 6-3 edge in the all-time series with SUU and won both meetings last year. The latter victory came in the opening round of the Big Sky Tournament when the fifth-seeded Fighting Hawks used a 30-point night by Quinton Hooker to get by the T-Birds.
• UND also won in Cedar City during regular season play when Hooker scored 29 points in an 88-72 victory over SUU. He is averaging 16.5 ppg in six career games against the T-Birds.
• SUU won the last meeting in Grand Forks between the two programs, knocking off the Fighting Hawks 71-65 (Feb. 28).
• UND is looking to start the Big Sky season at 3-1 for the second-consecutive season and match the program’s best start in five years as league member. A win would also match the Fighting Hawks’ longest winning streak of the season at three. UND has not had a four-game winning streak since the 2013-14 season.
• UND has won nine of its last 11 at home dating back to last season.
ON THE HORIZON
UND returns to the road for the Big Sky’s Treasure State swing that starts Thursday in Bozeman. The Fighting Hawks will take on Montana State in a 8 p.m. CT tip-off at Worthing Arena. Two days later, UND take the quick trip over to Missoula to face the Grizzlies. Tip-off against Montana is also set for 8 p.m. CT.
LAST TIME OUT: UND NAU (Jan. 5)
GRAND FORKS, N.D. – North Dakota held on to win its Big Sky home opener, knocking off Northern Arizona 68-63 Thursday at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center.
Senior Quinton Hooker scored a game-high 20 points and sophomore Conner Avants added 17 points and equaled his career-high with nine rebounds to pace the Fighting Hawks (7-6, 2-1 BSC). The duo combined for a 7-2 run late in the second half that gave UND just enough cushion down the stretch to pick up the victory.
The Lumberjacks (3-12, 0-2 BSC) got 19 points from Marcus DeBerry, who provided a jolt for the visitors in the second half that helped make things interesting down the stretch. His fifth trey of game made it a 65-63 contest with 42 ticks remaining, but sophomore Geno Crandall would make two clutch free throws on UND’s next possession to preserve the win.
CLOSING IN ON THE TOP 10
With his fifth 20-plus point game of the season, senior Quinton Hooker moved into 12th-place on the all-time scoring charts at UND with 1,406 points. He needs 36 points to crack the top 10 and will pass former teammate Aaron Anderson (11th; 1,430 points) and Chris Fahbrach (10th; 1,442) along the way.
THE ONE AND ONLY
Senior Quinton Hooker is the only player in program history to score 1,400 points, grab 400 rebounds (406), dish out 300 assists (343) and net 150 steals (157) in a career. He is second among active Big Sky scorer’s trailing only Weber State’s Jeremy Senglin (1,624). His 157 steals are tops among league players.
Over the last seven games, sophomore Conner Avants has made 46-of-66 attempts from the floor (69.6 percent) and is averaging a team-best 14.1 ppg during that stretch. Avants’ shooting surge has his field-goal percentage up to 61.8 for the season (68-for-110), which is currently third best among Big Sky players. He posted the first 20-point game of his career in the home loss to NDSU, finishing with 22 points.
EXTRA INSIGHT ...
• Sophomore Conner Avants posted his seventh double-figure scoring game of the season in the win over NAU (Jan. 5) also equaled his career-high with nine rebounds. Besides his scoring and work on the glass, Avants also established career-highs with three steals and two blocks against the Lumberjacks.
• With 20 points against NAU, senior Quinton Hooker registered his fifth 20-plus point game of the season and 25th of his career.
• Sophomore Geno Crandall is averaging a career-best 12.1 ppg and has reached double figures in nine of 12 contests this season. He had a career-high 24 points in the road win at NDSU (Dec. 7).
• Senior Corey Baldwin snapped a season-long stretch of four games without reaching double figures by scoring 12 points in the win at Sacramento State (Dec. 31). He had reached that plateau in five of the team’s first seven games. Baldwin went 2-for-6 from beyond the arc and has made multiple 3-pointers in a game eight times this season. He added 10 points in the win over NAU (Jan. 5) also pulled down seven rebounds.• Junior Drick Bernstine is the only Big Sky player to rank among the top 10 in rebounding (4th; 7.8 rpg) and assists (7th; 3.8 apg).
• The Fighting Hawks improved to 7-3 all-time on New Year’s Eve with the eight-point, overtime win at Sacramento State.
• Sophomore Cortez Seales scored 12 points off the bench in the win over Sacramento State (Dec. 31) and also knocked down a clutch 3-pointer in the extra session. Seales is now 5-for-11 on the season from deep (45.5 percent) after going only 6-for-26 from beyond the arc as a freshman (23.1 percent). In fact, Seales started this season 0-for-5, but has made 5-of-6 over the last five games.
• Last Thursday’s 37-point loss to Portland State was the largest for the program in a Big Sky contest in four-plus seasons as a league member. It was only the fifth 20-plus point setback in 39 all-time league losses. The worst previous defeat was a 95-63 loss to Weber State during UND’s first season in the league.
• Freshman Kienan Walter logged 11 minutes off the bench and scored eight points and pulled down six rebounds against Portland State (Dec. 29). The Vancouver, Wash., native played in front of a several family members and friends, who made the short drive over from his home town, which is just across the Washington border from downtown Portland.
• Junior forward Solomon Rolls-Tyson left the program during the Holiday break to pursue a professional career in Norway. Rolls-Tyson transferred to UND from Utah State Eastern this past summer and was redshirting.
• Junior Carson Shanks scored a career-high 17 points in 17 minutes of action at Northern Iowa (Dec. 10). Shanks went 8-for-10 from the floor against the Panthers. Shanks is currently second on the team with a 56.9 percent field goal clip and is averaging a career-best 7.2 ppg.
• After being held to a season-low four points at NDSU (Dec. 7), Hooker responded with a team-high 22 points at Northern Iowa (Dec. 10). Hooker was held to single digits just twice last season as a junior in 32 games. One of those was a four-point outing at Montana and he responded with 25 points in the next game at Montana State.
• UND’s eight-point loss to the Panthers was a 38-point improvement from last season’s 97-51 loss to UNI at home. The Fighting Hawks trailed 54-20 at halftime of that contest and led the Panthers 33-29 this year.
• Hooker was named to the Men Against Breast Cancer Classic All-Tournament team after averaging 18.7 ppg during the team’s three games at the Nutter Center in Dayton, Ohio. Hooker’s 29-point outing in the opener vs. North Florida was one shy of his season high of 30 set in the win over Mayville State (Nov. 15).
• The Fighting Hawks averaged 97.7 ppg during their three-game, season-opening homestand and became the first UND team to reach the 90-plus point plateau in three straight since Rich Glas’ 1993-94 squad that cracked the century mark in wins over Dakota State (100-76), Nebraska-Kearney (103-96, ot) and Valley City State (102-63).
OPPONENT PREVIEW: SOUTHERN UTAH
• Southern Utah head coach Todd Simon is in his first season leading the Thunderbirds’ program after spending the previous three as an associate head coach at UNLV.
• The T-Birds are off to a 4-11 start overall and 2-0 in Big Sky play after rallying for a 78-76 victory over Northern Colorado Thursday. They are one of three unbeatens remaining in league play (Eastern Washington and Weber State are also 2-0 entering Saturday).
• Simon served as the Runnin’ Rebels interim head coach for the final 17 games of last season, leading the squad to a 9-8 record. Prior to entering the collegiate ranks, Simon was an assistant coach for six seasons and head coach for one at Findlay Prep in Henderson, Nev. The Pilots accumulated a 192-9 overall record during that stretch, including a 35-1 mark in his lone season at the helm.
• Junior Randy Onwuasor is building a strong resume for Big Sky Newcomer of the Year. He shares the lead league in scoring at 23.7 ppg and is tied third nationally with Montana State’s Tyler Hall. He earned Co-Big Sky Player of the Week honors after scoring a career-high 37 points in SUU’s win over NAU last Saturday.
• In Thursday’s win over UNC, he hit the game-winner with two ticks left and added 32 points (averaging an eye-popping 34.5 ppg in Big Sky play).
• Classmate James McGree is the only other T-Bird averaging double figures. He poured in 32 points in the win over NAU and is averaging a career-high 15.5 ppg. McGee had 10 points in the win at UNC.
• Seldom-used Matthew Johnson was one of the SUU heros in the win over the Bears, squaring the game at 76-76 with a corner trey. It was his third 3-pointer of the game for the Las Vegas native, who had gone just 2-for-5 from deep in six non-conference games. Johnson finished with a career-high 12 points. He had 11 career points in 15 games prior to this performance.
All three of UND’s opponents at the MABC Classic in Dayton won 20-plus games a season ago. Cal State-Bakersfield participated in the NCAA Tournament, while North Florida was the Atlantic Sun regular season champion and played in the NIT. In fact, UND’s seven Division I non-conference games were all against teams that reached the 20-win plateau a season ago. Five of those teams participated in postseason play. Northern Iowa and Iowa both won a game in the 2016 NCAA Tournament before bowing out in the round of 32. The Panthers loss to Oklahoma in a game that featured a frantic comeback by the Sooners, while the Hawkeyes fell to eventual National Champion Villanova 87-68.
For the second-consecutive season, senior Quinton Hooker will serve as a team captain. He is joined in his captaincy by junior Drick Bernstine, who was the only Fighting Hawk to start all 33 games last season.
HOOKER NAMED BIG SKY PRESEASON MVP
North Dakota senior Quinton Hooker was named the Big Sky Preseason MVP on Oct. 26 in an announcement made by league officials. Hooker was one of six guards voted to the Big Sky Preseason All-Conference Team by media members after averaging 20.1 ppg and leading the Fighting Hawks to a nine-win improvement as a junior. The Lou Henson Mid-Major All-American increased his scoring average to 20.6 ppg in Big Sky play and scored 20-plus points in 15 games overall and 30-plus points on four different occasions last season. The first team All-Big Sky performer was also the first Fighting Hawk to average 20-plus points since the program moved to the Division I level (2008-09) and his pair of 38-point performances are also single-game highs at the DI level.
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