UND men's basketball guard Eli King contributing in new bench role

Jan. 24—GRAND FORKS — When Tyree Ihenacho became eligible to play for UND men's basketball in December, the Fighting Hawks were faced with a surprise situation.

UND already had a solid starting point guard in sophomore Eli King, a transfer from Iowa State, who started for the Hawks in 12 non-conference games.

His role on the team shifted after Ihenacho's return, and King, along with the rest of the Hawks, are starting to click with 10 Summit League games remaining on the schedule.

After winning two conference games this weekend, UND finds itself sitting ranked at No. 4 in the league before a second matchup with St. Thomas Saturday.

"(After) adding Tyree, roles changed a little bit. It took some getting used to and figuring out, more than anything, but I think now everyone knows," King said. "It's just about doing the best you can in your role. Certain nights, it might change a little bit here and there. Certain guys might be scoring more than others. Think it's just doing the things that you can control."

The offensive categories on a statistic sheet after a UND basketball game aren't constantly filled with King's name, but his style of play and emphasis on defense impact the game. King leads UND with 26 steals this season.

"I look at Eli's weekend, and I thought Eli had a great weekend," coach Paul Sather said Wednesday. "He wasn't someone that just scored a ton, but, man, him and Brady (Danielson) both coming off the bench made a lot of just big time, game-winning type plays for us."

King has come off the bench in every game since Dec. 20 at Nebraska.

His minutes aren't reflecting that, though. King averaged 25.2 minutes in 12 games as a starter. He's played 23.3 minutes per contest in nine games off the bench.

"It's just coming off the bench and trying to bring energy on the defensive end every single night," King said. "My role probably changes a little bit offensively day to day depending on how we're scoring. It's just being consistent with that stuff. Whether I'm starting or not, it's more minutes that I care about. One night, I might play more minutes than a starter, so I don't look into it a whole lot."

Not starting is an adjustment for the Caledonia, Minn., product who led two teams to state tournament appearances, finishing second in 2017-2018 and third in 2021-2022.

He isn't in unfamiliar territory, though. King played up grades in basketball, getting minutes at Caledonia as a seventh grader.

"Obviously, it's different not being the main guy or the main scorer," he said. "But, for me, I knew coming in that it's not like high school, and you're not going to be able to control the game at that level. I just focus more on getting other people involved, playing defense. Then the scoring will come. Just trying to take advantage of opportunities."