Quinton Hooker helped the Fighting Hawks catch fire and extinguish SUU’s bid to break a growing losing streak.
Hooker hit the game-winning jumper over the defense of Randy Onwuasor with just 1.1 seconds left, and Geno Crandall came up with the steal that sealed North Dakota’s 91-89 win over Southern Utah before 2,069 fans at the Centrum.
The Fighting Hawks erased a 14-point first-half deficit and won its third straight to improve to 7-2 in the Big Sky and stay on the heels of league-leader Weber State. SUU lost its sixth straight and fell to 4-17 overall.
“They had a contested fadeaway two-pointer, and that’s a tough shot to make,” T-Birds head coach Todd Simon said. “It’s the breaks of the game.”
One bad break SUU had to play through was foul trouble. Despite finishing with 26 points, Onwuasor was whistled for his fourth foul with 7:52 left and did not score the rest of the way.
In spite of the foul difficulty, the T-Birds hung in against the Big Sky’s second-place team that won by 30, 95-65, in Grand Forks on Jan. 7. North Dakota trailed 38-24 late in the first half and cut the margin to 41-32 at the break, but SUU would rebuild the lead back to 13 at 50-37 before UND’s scoring duo went to work.
The Fighting Hawks went on a 16-3 tear over a four-minute stretch, and Crandall’s dunk off an alley-oop feed from Hooker knotted the score at 53-53 with 13:49 remaining, setting up the back-and-forth fight to the finish.
“They’re one of the best offensive teams in the league, no question,” Simon said. “Those two guards are tremendous, but we made progress. Transition defense was night and day, so was our shot selection.”
James McGee, who backed up Onwuasor with 20 points, drilled a 3-pointer that put SUU in front at 86-85 with 1:30 left to send the noise level up a few notches in the Centrum. Crandall would answer with a jumper and Hooker helped with a pair of free throws.
But Christian Musoko – who was hitting his free throws at 60 percent coming into the game – nailed two clutch free throws with 13.7 seconds left that tied the score at 89.
It wouldn’t be enough thanks to Hooker’s heroics.
Crandall led all scorers with 31 points for North Dakota and Hooker added 23.
SUU’s losing streak reached seven straight as Northern Colorado got 28 points from D.J. Miles and 24 from Jordan Davis in an 89-71 rout over the T-Birds on Saturday. The Bears broke a five-game losing streak of their own and improved to 4-6 in Big Sky play. SUU got 16 points from Randy Onwuasor, 12 from Decardo Day and 10 from John Marshall, who was one of three T-Birds to foul out.
UNC made 8 of 11 3-pointers after halftime, and it helped offset hitting just 11 of 25 (44 percent) from the free-throw line in the second half. SUU fell behind 40-28 at the half and never got the deficit less than nine points the rest of the way.
The T-Birds shot 40 percent from the floor in the loss. They will be on the road this week with games at Weber State on Thursday and Idaho State on Saturday.
NORTH DAKOTA 91, SOUTHERN UTAH 89
North Dakota 32 59 -- 91
Southern Utah 41 48 -- 89
N. Dakota – Crandall 31, Baldwin 13, Collins 5, Brown 3, Shanks 1, Seales 9, Hooker 23, Walter 2, Bernstine 4. Totals 30-58 21-30 91. 3-pointers – Crandall 1, Baldwin 3, Collins 1, Brown 1, Hooker 4.
S. Utah – Onwuasor 26, Day 4, Marshall 10, Calloway 8, McGee 20, Madunic 5, Johnson 3, Musoko 11, Holker 2. Totals 29-57 19-26 89. 3-pointers – Onwuasor 5, Calloway 1, McGee 4, Madunic 1, Johnson 1.
Northern Colorado 89, Southern Utah 71