RENO, Nev. — It took an extra five minutes of action, but it was all worth it in the end.
Before the 2016-17 season got underway, many picked either the reigning champion Weber State Wildcats or the North Dakota Fighting Hawks to win the conference title and represent the Big Sky in the NCAA Tournament.
On Saturday night, in Reno, the two teams met in the Big Sky tournament with a spot in the NCAA Tournament on the line.
North Dakota won their first regular season Big Sky crown, and came in as the one-seed. Weber State, the defending champions, came in as the three-seed. Both rosters are decorated with star-caliber players, so it was bound to be a tight contest from the start.
After the Fighting Hawks took a four-point lead into the break, Weber State bounced back and opened up an 11-point lead of their own midway through the second frame. North Dakota fought their way back, and forced overtime on a layup from Geno Crandall in the final seconds.
RENO, Nev. — Some say that it’s not how you start that matters, but how you finish. On the flip side, sometimes a strong start can lead to the finish you’re looking for.
On Thursday afternoon, in the Big Sky quarter-finals, the latter held true for the North Dakota Fighting Hawks in their match-up against the Portland State Vikings.
Fresh off their first Big Sky regular season title in school history, North Dakota was the top seed in the conference tournament. They began their quest for their first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament on Thursday, and make a statement in the process.
Portland State was playing their second game in three days. After dumping the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks by 13 points on Tuesday, things got a lot tougher on Thursday against the Fighting Hawks.
Out of the gate, the Fighting Hawks came ready to play. They opened the game by hitting 19 of their first 26 shot attempts, and while they went cold down the stretch in the opening half, they held a 14-point lead at the break.
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.
On the flip side, some smaller programs are still awaiting their first spot in the magical field of 68.
Advancing to the NCAA Tournament is always tougher for smaller programs. In most cases, non-power conferences are only represented by their respective conference champions. Outside of the Missouri Valley Conference and the West Coast Conference, it’s very rare to see to see multiple teams from the same small conference in the field of 68.
POCATELLO, ID. — The 2016-17 season hasn’t been too kind to the Idaho State Bengals, especially after how they fared a season ago.
The arrival of guard Ethan Telfair last year changed the fortunes for the Bengals, and they vaulted up into fourth spot in the Big Sky standings. Entering this year, the Bengals were a trendy pick in the race for the Big Sky crown, but they have been unable to build off the momentum they created last season.
On Thursday night, Idaho State welcomed the North Dakota Fighting Hawks to town. A win over North Dakota would give the Bengals a big boost of momentum heading into the conference in just a couple of weeks.
While the Bengals would hold a slim lead early on, the Fighting Hawks would pull away as the opening half ticked away. After taking a seven-point lead into the break, North Dakota wouldn’t trail in the second half.
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.