With three quarterfinal games of the Big Sky tournament on Thursday, we knew we'd get some great games. Fortunately, we were treated to all three games coming down to the end. Let's take a quick recap of what happened.
North Dakota 79, Sacramento State 76
This one was consistently entertaining from start to finish, with both teams making plays offensively throughout. The Hornets build up a lead in the second half, but North Dakota stayed right in it, made some free throws down the stretch, and got a stop when they needed it. The Hornets were led by their strong backcourt, as always. Mikh McKinney led the way with 24 points and 7 assists, practically living at the foul line in the second half. His backcourt mate Dylan Garrity had 18 points and six rebounds, draining all four threes that he attempted. Cody Demps was big as well, with 15 points.
But North Dakota just had too many weapons in this game, and hit lots of big shots down the stretch. The star at the end was Aaron Anderson, who kept making plays. He finished with 16 points and four assists. The other guy that I thought really stepped up for them was Josh Schuler, who had 11 points and four assists off the bench, and just kept making big play after big play. The senior was huge when UND needed him most. He did get tackled a bit by McKinney at the end of the game (McKinney was desperately trying to foul, not a dirty play at all, just had a bad ending), so it remains to be seen his status going forward.
For the Hornets, it's a bitter loss since they were so close to the win, but they can at least take solace in the fact that they should be back next year, and be one of the favorites in the Big Sky. North Dakota advances to play another day, and that's all you can ask for at this point in the season!
Northern Colorado 62, Northern Arizona 60
For a while, it looked like the Northern Colorado club we saw to begin the conference season - the one that was obliterating opponents, unstoppable on offense, and relentless on defense. With nine minutes to play, they led by 20. But NAU is a resilient club, and they just kept chipping away, until suddenly it was 62-60 and the Jacks had the ball with the chance to tie or win. Quinton Upshur's shot at the end didn't fall, but it was a great effort getting back in the game. NAU fed big man Max Jacobson all game, and he was excellent in his swan song, with 18 points. Aaseem Dixon was another star, with 20 off the bench, keying the comeback with three pointer after three pointer. Like Sac State, they will be back and even better next season.
For the Bears, if they play like they did the first 30 minutes, they absolutely can beat Weber State. If they play like they did down the stretch, they'll get blown out. Tevin Svihovec led the charge early, and finished with 14 points. Derrick Barden had 15, and Tate Unruh had 12 points. They remain, even now, a mystifying team, and that was certainly on display on Thursday. Hopefully we will see the "Good UNC" on Friday, because when they are clicking, there is not a more fun team to watch in the Big Sky.
Portland State 70, Montana 63
Just like that, Montana's title defense is over. Portland State did something nobody has been able to do for a couple years... beat Montana in the Big Sky tournament. Montana led much of the first 30 minutes or so, but this was a close game throughout. With four minutes left, the game was very much in doubt... but from then on, the Vikings could do no wrong.
Montana struggled from the outside, shooting 1/10 from three-point range. Kareem Jamar was 0/5 from deep, and just couldn't get a jumper to fall all game, though he still finished with 20 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 assists. He had an amazing career (hopefully I will write more on that soon), but it was a tough final game. Credit should go to PSU defensively... it was the best defensive game I've seen them play. They were flying around, and packing the paint.
Offensively, the Vikings were excellent as well, and hit a lot of tough shots, and attacked the rim hard. Kyle Richardson continued his string of great performances, finishing with 19. DaShaun Wiggins had 18 off the bench. Gary Winston had 11. The Vikings struggled offensively early, but really found their groove in the second half. They absolutely can win the Big Sky tournament the way that they are playing right now.
Still, it was odd to see Montana fall. Since I started writing this blog, they have reigned supreme in the Big Sky, winning the title each of the last two seasons. Their string of four straight conference title game appearances is outstanding. It has been fun watching Kareem Jamar throughout his career. In applauding Portland State for their win, we must applaud the Grizzlies on their way out.
The semifinals are set -
(1) Weber State vs. (6) Northern Colorado
(2) North Dakota vs. (5) Portland State
Previews to hopefully come in the morning! Any thoughts?
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