GRAND FORKS, N.D. — The Betty Engelstad Sioux Center is one tough place to play. Just ask the rest of the Big Sky Conference.
Coming into Saturday’s tilt with the Idaho Vandals, the North Dakota Fighting Hawks had won 11 straight conference games on their home floor. While they were looking to keep their streak going, they were also looking to remain in second place by themselves in the conference standings.
Fresh off a win over the Eastern Washington Eagles in their last outing, the Fighting Hawks held a one-game lead over the Eagles for second spot in the Big Sky.
Saturday was the only meeting of the year between the Vandals and the Fighting Hawks, and both were looking for another quality win to give themselves some extra momentum as March quickly approaches.
The game was tight for the first five minutes, but the North Dakota started to take over. A 22-5 run opened things up for the Fighting Hawks, who held a 13-point lead after the first half. They quickly extended their lead to 20 points early in the second half, and the Vandals were unable to mount any sort of comeback the rest of the way.
Geno Crandall scored a game-high 22 points in just 22 minutes of action, and North Dakota rolled past Idaho, 88-65.
It was an effective night on the offensive end of the floor for the Fighting Hawks. As a team, they shot 50.9% (28-of-55) from the floor, 50.0% (8-of-16) from three point range, and 85.7% (24-of-28) from the free throw line in the win.
After Trevon Allen hit a three to bring the Vandals back to within two points at the 14:03 mark, the Fighting Hawks took control of the game.
Over a six-minute stretch, the Fighting Hawks reeled off a 22-5 run to blow the game wide open. A pair of free throws from Geno Crandall with just over six minutes left in the half gave North Dakota a 38-19 lead.
A three point jumper from Quinton Hooker just a couple of minutes later stretched the lead for North Dakota to 23 points.
North Dakota took a 49-33 lead after the opening 20 minutes, and they weren’t threatened in the second half.
Their lead ballooned back up to 20 points early in the second half, taking the wind out of the sails of the Vandals. Idaho was never able to mount a serious comeback effort, and the Fighting Hawks cruised in the second half to the 23-point win.
North Dakota took down Idaho on Saturday afternoon, 88-65, for their 12th straight win at home over a Big Sky opponent.
Despite fouling out and playing only 22 minutes on the day, Geno Crandall scored a game-high 22 points to lead the way for the Fighting Hawks. Crandall went 6-of-10 from the field, and a perfect 3-of-3 from the free throw line.
Quinton Hooker added 21 points, while Carson Shanks chipped in with 11 points, 10 rebounds, and a career-high 5 blocks off the bench.
Victor Sanders and Trevon Allen scored 11 points apiece to pace the Vandals.
Despite all of their success at home, a three game road swing awaits the North Dakota Fighting Hawks (15-8, 10-3), which kicks off Thursday night against the Idaho State Bengals.
After their four-game winning streak came to a close on Saturday, the Idaho Vandals (13-11, 8-5) will look to start a new streak on Friday night when they face off against the Eastern Washington Eagles.
– T. Bennett