RECAP: North Dakota secures first Big Sky regular season crown in 82-73 win over Portland State

Geno Crandall (above, 21 points) and Quinton Hooker (top, 29 points) combined for 50 points in the 82-73 win for North Dakota over Portland State on Saturday. (Source: Russell Hons - North Dakota Men's Basketball)
Geno Crandall (above, 21 points) and Quinton Hooker (top, 29 points) combined for 50 points in the 82-73 win for North Dakota over Portland State on Saturday. (Source: Russell Hons – North Dakota Men’s Basketball)

GRAND FORKS, N.D. — On Senior Night inside ‘The Betty’, graduating guard Quinton Hooker made sure he left a lasting impression in what could be his final home game with the North Dakota Fighting Hawks.

Against the visiting Portland State Vikings in the Big Sky finale for both teams, Hooker poured in a game-high 29 points to help lead the Fighting Hawks to the 82-73 victory.

The win secured the top seed for the Fighting Hawks in the Big Sky tournament down in Reno, Nevada. It was also the first-ever regular season Big Sky championship for the Fighting Hawks, as they finish conference play at 14-4.

North Dakota took control of the first half from the outset. Geno Crandall opened the scoring with a three pointer on the first possession, and the Fighting Hawks were off and running. While the Vikings remained within striking distance, they were never able to take a lead of their own as the first half ticked away.

The lead reached as many as 10 points in the opening half for North Dakota, but Portland State reeled off an 8-0 run to close the half with some momentum. The Vikings cut the deficit down to two points at the break, at 42-40.

It was a back and forth second half, much like the opening 20 minutes. Corey Baldwin put the Fighting Hawks in the lead for good with just over 16 minutes to play, but the Vikings cut the deficit down to a single point later in the half.

However, in the final minutes, North Dakota flexed their muscle and sent their home crowd into a frenzy.

Hooker hit a three to spark a 10-3 run for North Dakota, one that sealed the win for the Fighting Hawks. On his senior night, it was only fitting that Hooker play an integral part in the win for North Dakota.

With their 82-73 win, North Dakota finished the season a perfect 14-0 at home when scoring over 80 points. Add in the school’s first Big Sky regular season crown, and it was a special night all around.

“Quinton is such a special player and for us to be able to send those seniors out like this and win a conference championship on Senior Day, you couldn’t script it any better,” said North Dakota head coach Brian Jones, in a release posted by the Fighting Hawks.

Hooker posted his 14th game scoring 20 or more points this season, recording a game-high 29 on 10-of-18 shooting from the floor. Crandall chipped in with 21 points and eight rebounds, shooting 4-of-6 from three point range in the process.

Baldwin and Conner Avants added eight points apiece.

Off the bench, big man Traylin Farris recorded 17 points to pace the offense for the Vikings. Guard Calaen Robinson added 15 points and three rebounds in the loss.

With the win, the Fighting Hawks guaranteed themselves at least a share of the Big Sky regular season title. They are the outright champions if the Eastern Washington Eagles suffer a loss on Saturday afternoon.

Regardless, the Fighting Hawks will be the one-seed in the conference tournament, while Portland State will be the eight-seed. The Vikings take on the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks in the opening round on Thursday night, with the winner getting North Dakota in the quarter-finals.

– T. Bennett