Courtesy: Matt Schill,
Junior Geno Crandall went for 22 points in last year's home win over Idaho.
Notes: Title defense begins with preseason favorites
Release: 12/28/2017
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GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- The reigning Big Sky Champions will begin their regular-season title defense with a home tilt against Idaho, who is this year’s preseason league favorite. The Fighting Hawks and Vandals will open Big Sky play Friday, Dec. 29 at 7 p.m. CT. 

Series tied 3-3
In Grand Forks: Series tied 1-1
Last Meeting: UND 69, Idaho 64 (Mar. 10, 2017; Reno)
UND Head Coach Brian Jones vs. Idaho: 3-3 
UND Head Coach Brian Jones vs. Verlin: 3-3 
Idaho Head Coach Don Verlin vs. UND: 3-3 
Idaho Head Coach Don Verlin vs. Jones: 3-3

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• UND is coming off a 13-day break that last saw them take No. 12 Gonzaga into overtime before the Zags escaped with an 89-83 victory. That was the fourth-straight setback for UND, who has not lost five in a row since dropping the final nine games of the 2014-15 season.
• This will be the sixth and final season in the Big Sky for the Fighting Hawks,  who will join the Summit League in 2018-19. 
• UND owns a 52-38 record in its first five seasons of league play, including its best showing of 14-4 during its title run last season. However, the Fighting Hawks are just 1-4 in Big Sky openers and this will be the second time they’ve played Idaho to open league play. The Vandals won the first matchup 74-71 in Grand Forks on New Year’s Eve of 2015.
• The Fighting Hawks evened their all-time record with Idaho at 3-3 thanks to winning both matchups last season. The teams only met once during the regular season with UND posting an 88-65 victory on Feb. 16 in Grand Forks. The 23-point victory is the largest by either team in the series.
• The second tilt came during the 2017 Big Sky Tournament. Top-seeded UND defeated the fourth-seeded Vandals 69-64 during the semifinals in Reno. That was the first time the teams had met in postseason play.

The Fighting Hawks went 11-2 at The Betty last season and own a 122-56 record in the building that opened prior to the 2004-05 season. UND went just 2-2 in four non-conference  home games this season, but  has now won eight-consecutive home openers. The Fighting Hawks were 8-1 in Big Sky play on their home court a year ago.

Eastern Washington pays a visit to Grand Forks for a New Year’s Eve tilt at 4 p.m. on Sunday. The Eagles and Fighting Hawks met only once last season with UND picking up a 95-86 win at home on Feb. 9. This will be the third-consecutive season the Fighting Hawks have played a game on the final day of the calendar year and they are 7-3 all-time on Dec. 31.

Even though they will not be conferece foes moving forward UND and Idaho will continue to play each other as part of the Big Sky-Summit League Challenge Series that begins next season. Idaho returns to Grand Forks next season, while the Fighting Hawks will travel to Moscow to play during the 2020-21 season.

The North Dakota men’s basketball program holds a 1566-1042 (.600) all-time record since Dr. George Sweetland led the first team onto the court in 1904-05. North Dakota is 946-282 (.770) all-time when it comes to defending its home court. 

Geno Crandall became the 36th player in UND men’s basketball history to reach the 1,000-point plateau and the junior arrived at the figure in one of the most dramatic ways possible. The milestone came on his 3-pointer that sent the UND-Gonzaga game into overtime, tying the game at 69-69 with 1.8 seconds to play.  Crandall’s milestone came in his 73rd career game, which made him the quickest among the six Fighting Hawks to reach that plateau during the program’s Division I era. Troy Huff (2010-14) had been the quickest among the first quintet after taking 74 career games. Huff ended his career as the program’s third all-time leading scorer with 2,005 points. 

Junior Cortez Seales did his part in trying to delivere UND’s first win over a ranked opponent, scoring a season-high 23 points in the overtime loss at No. 12/13 Gonzaga (Dec. 16). Seales went 11-for-15 from the field, including a stretch in the first half where he made seven-consecutive shots from the field in helping give UND a 34-30 lead on the Bulldogs at halftime. It marked the first time UND had led a ranked opponent at the break in program history. His 11 field goals made against the Zags equaled his career-best from his collegiate debut against UM-Morris (Nov. 13, 2015).

Iowa grad transfer Dale Jones earned a starting role entering the 2017-18 season for his new team and the 6-foot-8 forward has proven his worth early on this season. Jones reached double figures twice at the Rainbow Classic and nearly scored as many points (31) in those three games as he did in his two-year Iowa career (33). Injuries limited him to just 11 games for the Hawkeyes.
Through 11 games for the Fighting Hawks, Jones is averaging 9.9 ppg and a team-best 6.8 rpg, which is sixth best in the Big Sky. He scored a career-high 18 points in the loss at South Dakota State (Dec. 12) and added 14 against Gonzaga (Dec. 16).

Sophomore Marlon Stewart scored just 26 points  (8.7 ppg) in his first three career games for UND, but is averaging nearly double that figure in his last eight games (15.8 ppg), including a career-hig 24 points against Utah Valley (Nov. 25) and team-high 23 against NDSU (Dec. 9). That was his third 20-plus point game of the season for Stewart. He had a career-high nine helpers in UND’s outing against Presentation (Nov. 28). 

Stewart went for 15 points and went 6-for-6 from the foul line vs. the Zags (Dec. 16).

Junior captain Conner Avants had reached double-figures in a career-best seven-straight games before being held to a season low three points despite playing a career-high 38 minutes at Gonzaga (Dec. 16). He shares the team lead in double-figure scoring games this season with eight and had a career-high 24 points in the win over Presentation (Nov. 28).

Sophomore Kienan Walter played a career-high 24 minutes off the bench against NDSU (Dec. 9) and delivered with a career-high 11 points. He made his only two field-goal attempts, but also connected on six-of-eight free throws. The six-foot-nine forward also equaled his season-high with four rebounds.

Junior Geno Crandall has equaled his career-high of five steals three different times already this season and now has 148 for his career. With his latest five-steal performance against NDSU (Dec. 9), Crandall moved into fifth place on UND’s all-time charts knocking his mentor Aaron Anderson from that perch.

Junior Geno Crandall has achieved a growing list of “firsts” this season and he added another one in the overtime loss to Utah Valley (Nov. 25). For the first time in his career, Crandall notched a double-double with 15 points and a career-high 10 rebounds against the Wolverines. Crandall’s double-double was also the first of the season for a Fighting Hawk. Classmate Conner Avants was a rebound shy of his first career double-double against UVU (Nov. 25), finishing with 12 points and nine boards.

Over the past two seasons, UND owns a 19-2 record when scoring 80 or more points. The only two losses when reaching that point total have been against ranked opponents (100-82 vs. Arizona; NCAA Tournament and 89-83 OT loss at Gonzaga). 
So far this season, the Fighting Hawks are 3-1 when scoring 80-plus points and are averaging 76.4 ppg, which is fifth highest among Big Sky teams.

The Fighting Hawks are off to a slow start from 3-point territory (27.3 percent; 66-for-242), but have made up for that with a 53.8 percent clip inside the arc. 

Overall, UND is shooting 44.5 percent from the field, which is the fifth best in the Big Sky Conference. Junior captain Conner Avants is sixth among Big Sky players with a 56.3 field goal percentage.

UND enters league play ranked second in the Big Sky, averaging 8.9 steals per game. Led by junior Geno Crandall (22; 2.3./g, third in Big Sky) and sophomore Marlon Stewart (17; 1.5/g, eighth in Big Sky), the Fighting Hawks are forcing opponents into 15.5 turnovers per game and have registered 10 or more steals in five of their last nine games.

• Head coach Don Verlin has the Vandals off to an 8-4 start and has started the same lineup in each of those 12 games. 
• Two of those losses are to the same team as Cal-State Bakersfield beat Idaho 64-62 at the Great Alaska Shootout and 66-55 in Bakersfield just over two weeks later. 
• The Vandals dropped their final non-conference game on Dec. 21 as UC Irvine won a neutral-court matchup 67-59.
• Idaho’s most impressive win was a 91-64 dismantling of Washington State from the Pac-12 Conference. The programs are separated by only a handful of miles in the Pacific Northwest.
• The Vandals are a veteran squad led by guard Victor Sanders, who is one of four seniors in Verlin’s starting lineup. A two-time All-Big Sky honoree, Sanders ranked third among Big Sky scorers entering league play this season.
• Senior forward Brayon Blake is averaging 14.1 ppg and a league-high 9.5 rpg. He’s also knocking down 50 percent of his 3-point attempts, which is the second best clip in the Big Sky. Blake is actually shooting better beyond the arc (20-for-40), than he is inside the arc (45-for-94; 47.9 percent).
• Senior point guard Perrion Callandret is back after missing most of last season with an injury. He is averaging 9.8 ppg and a team-best 3.3 apg. Callandret only played in two games last season.
• Junior forward Nate Sherwood is the only non-senior in the starting lineup. He is the third Vandal averaging in double figures, scoring at an 11.6 ppg clip. His 57.0 percent field-goal clip is tops on the team.
• Sherwood’s brother, Chad, is the Vandals’ sixth man and he’s shooting 46.9 percent from 3-point range and averaging 4.3 ppg.
• The Vandals are allowing the fewest points among Big Sky teams, yielding only 63.7 ppg and the 38.4 percent field goal clip they are holding opponents to is also a league-best. Opponents are also shooting just 27.7 percent from beyond the arc against Idaho.

-- UND --

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