GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Quinton Hooker is starting to find his groove after a slow(er) start to the 2016-17 season, and that’s bad news for the rest of the Big Sky Conference moving forwards.
Coming into the season, we tabbed Hooker as our Preseason Big Sky Conference Player of the Year. He was coming off a year where he averaged 20.1 points per contest, recorded the program’s first-ever triple-double, and took home the College Court Report Player of the Year award.
In the past two games, both of which were wins for the North Dakota Fighting Hawks, Hooker averaged 25.5 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. On Saturday afternoon against the Southern Utah Thunderbirds, Hooker was looking to continue his strong play and lead the Fighting Hawks to their third straight win.
Hooker scored a game-high 23 points for the Fighting Hawks, and was one of five players to score in double-figures on the day for the home side.
Thanks to a big first half, North Dakota pulled away from the Thunderbirds early, and rolled to the 95-65 win to extend their winning streak to three games.
From the outset, the Fighting Hawks had a different look to them. Sophomore forward Josh Collins replaced Drick Bernstine in the starting lineup, as he missed the game due to injury.
It was a back-and-forth start to the game, as the Fighting Hawks and Thunderbirds traded baskets over the first few minutes. A three point jumper from Corey Baldwin with 13:28 to play in the first half gave North Dakota the 11-8 lead, and they wouldn’t trail the rest of the night.
Hooker capped off a 12-1 run with a three pointer of his own to break the game open for the Fighting Hawks. The Thunderbirds missed all seven of their three point attempts in the opening 20 minutes, and North Dakota took an 18-point lead into the locker room.
Southern Utah finished 3-of-17 from three point range on the day.
The second half showcased more of the same, as North Dakota reeled off a 9-1 run to put the game out of reach. They led by as many as 37 points in the second half, and cruised to the 30-point win over Southern Utah, 95-65.
In place of Bernstine, Collins set a career-high with 11 points in the win. The sophomore finished the game shooting 5-of-8 from the floor, and he also pulled down 7 rebounds.
Quinton Hooker scored a game-high 23 points for his third straight game with 20 or more, and he also recorded 7 rebounds and 6 assists. Corey Baldwin chipped in with 14 points, while Geno Crandall added 13 points and 9 assists.
The duo of Randy Onwuasor and James McGee once again led the way for Southern Utah. Onwuasor recorded a team-high 19 points to go along with 9 rebounds and 3 assists, while McGee scored 11 points in the loss.
Onwuasor and McGee were a combined 8-of-28 from the floor on the day.
After they opened Big Sky play with a blowout loss at the hands of the Portland State Vikings, the North Dakota Fighting Hawks (8-6, 3-1) have now won three straight contests. They return to the court on Thursday to take on Tyler Hall and the Montana State Bobcats.
The loss was the first in conference play for the Southern Utah Thunderbirds (4-12, 2-1). They will look to get back on the right track on Thursday when they return home to take on the Sacramento State Hornets.
– T. Bennett