North Dakota wins Great WestBy RICK GANO, AP Sports Writer Saturday, Mar 10, 2012
CHICAGO (AP)—North Dakota said farewell to the Great West Conference in style, winning the conference tournament for a second straight year before it heads next season to the Big Sky.
“Obviously this league has been great for us through our transition. We wanted to leave it the right way,” coach Brian Jones said following Saturday’s 75-60 victory over New Jersey Institute of Technology.
“We left on a high note.”
Troy Huff scored 15 points and Patrick Mitchell all 12 of his points in the second half for the Sioux, who finally pulled away in the final eight minutes.
North Dakota (17-14), which earned a spot in the CollegeInsider.com tournament with the victory, trailed by two at the half, built a quick 13-point lead in the second that slipped away and then poured it on in the stretch with tough defense.
“That’s one of our staples,” Huff said. “What coach stressed to us is that defense can lead to transition. We know if we got on defense, the rest of the offense will come.”
North Dakota (17-14) also got 11 points each from tournament MVP Jamal Webb and Josh Schuler.
The teams split a pair of regular-season games and the Highlanders had knocked out top-seeded Utah Valley on Friday in overtime. NJIT had won five of the previous six meetings with North Dakota.
“They were the one team that had our number. That’s no secret,” Jones said. “They were the one team that a winning record against us.”
NJIT (15-17) was led by 19 points from Isaiah Wilkerson and 15 from Chris Flores. The Highlander used an 11-0 run to cut the lead to 49-47 with about eight minutes left before North Dakota pulled away.
“I felt we got back in the game and it took a lot of effort to do that and North Dakota was playing extremely well,” NJIT coach Jim Engles said.
“We got some stops and then they got big offensive rebounds and were able to convert. A couple of 50-50 balls here and a couple of situations where we could have gotten our hands on a rebound that would have been able to help us out. … They are a championship team, they won last year and they know how to win. They did the plays necessary to take control of the game.”
NJIT lead 29-27 at the half after jumping out to an 11-3 lead and shooting 44 percent to just 33 percent for the Sioux. Wilkerson had 10 points for the Highlanders and Brandon Brekke eight for North Dakota, even though he missed 6 of 10 free throws. North Dakota was just 7 for 15 from the line during the half and had only two leads.
But Mitchell came out and hit back-to-back 3s from the corner in the opening 76 seconds of the second half and Huff had a driving basket during the 8-0 spurt that gave North Dakota a 35-29 lead.
The Sioux picked up the defense and the tempo and Webb’s driving basket highlighted another 8-0 spurt that made it 49-36. After the Highlanders missed eight of their first 10 second-half field goal attempts, Flores had a 3 and Wilkerson a follow-up basket as NJIT went on an 11-0 run of its own. Flores then had a steal and drive to pull the Highlanders within two with eight minutes remaining.
But North Dakota hung on as Huff drove for a bucket and Webb bounced in a 3-pointer from the corner. Mitchell found the range again from the 3-point line with four minutes left and North Dakota’s lead was back to 11.
The game at the modern 7,000-seat Jones Convocation Center on the campus of Chicago State drew a crowd of about 150.