Avants and Stewart push Fighting Hawks over Western Illinois

GRAND FORKS, N.D. (UND Athletics) -- Cortez Seales sank a dagger three in the corner and came up with a loose ball on the defensive side of the ball on the ensuing possession to help North Dakota hold off Western Illinois, 71-65, on Saturday afternoon at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center.

The senior, who did not score in the first half, tallied seven points in the final eight minutes of action as the Fighting Hawks (8-10, 2-3 Summit League) rallied from a double-digit deficit to win for the first time since Mar. 6, 2018 vs. Montana State.

Conner Avants continued to dominate opponents in Summit League play, matching the game-high 21 points on 7-of-11 shooting from the field. Playing most of the game matched up against the nation’s leading shot blocker, Brandon Gilbeck, the senior has now scored at least 20 points in three of the last four games.

Marlon Stewart matched Avants’ 21 points for the most by the junior this season while also dishing out three assists, grabbing a trio of rebounds, and three steals.

Filip Rebraca was the final Fighting Hawk to score double figures as the freshman provided a solid boost of energy in his 19 minutes of action. The Serbian was 4-of-6 from the field, including 2-for-2 from three and a monster dunk in the second half to spark the crowd. Rebraca also grabbed seven rebounds, rejected three shots, and had an assist in the victory.

North Dakota won the rebounding battle, 31-26, led by Kienan Walter’s career-high 10 boards. This marks the first time this season that a UND player has recorded 10+ rebounds without scoring in double figures as well.

After allowing Western Illinois (6-12, 1-4 Summit League) to shoot at a 67.9% clip in the first half, UND tightened the hatches and held the Leathernecks to just 27.6% in the second half to help turnaround the contest. Overall, the Hawks connected at a 54.0% clip, including nailing 8-of-11 threes.

After Western Illinois scored the first seven points of the game, UND started to heat up from distance. The Fighting Hawks hit their first five shots from beyond-the-arc to try and chip into the lead, but the Leathernecks maintained their hot shooting to build a 28-18 lead with 8:59 remaining in the first half.

UND continued to chip away as the half wore on, as Avants and Stewart both entered double figures to help spark the rally. The Hawks closed the gap to a single point, but the Leathernecks shot nearly 68% from the field in the opening stanza to build a 43-37 advantage at the halftime break.
Out of the half, the momentum switched to the home side as Avants continued his dominating presence in the paint despite going against the nation’s top shot blocker. The senior pushed his total up to 21 with a pair of makes at the charity stripe to even the score at 47 just past the five-minute mark of the second. UND also cranked up the defense, holding the Leathernecks scoreless for over five minutes and 1 for their last 11 from the field.

The 1,898 fans were brought to their feet as Rebraca took over the game in the early portion of the second half. The freshman recorded back-to-back blocks before throwing down a thunderous dunk on the offensive end to give the Hawks a 55-51 lead at the midway point of the half.

After both sides went back-and-forth, UND started to take the game over down the final stretch. The Hawks embarked on a 9-2 run over a 4:18 stretch to extend their lead to eight, 66-58, with 3:57 to play. Stewart and Seales were large in the run, each hitting baskets and creating offense as the junior crossed over the 20-point plateau with a driving bucket.

Western Illinois started to foul down the stretch, and a few missed opportunities at the charity stripe gave the visitors some life. After the Leathernecks cut the deficit down to just three with under 30 seconds to play, Seales answered with a massive triple from the corner off a feed from Walter to seal the 71-65 victory for North Dakota.

NOTES: UND moves to 2-7 this season when trailing at the half … This marks the first time since Mar. 8, 2018 vs. Montana that two players scored over 20 points for UND … The 10 rebounds by Kienan Walter are a new career high … UND held WIU to just one three on 10 attempts in the second half … Aanen Moody failed to make a three for this first time this season, ending his streak at 17 straight games … Attendance was 1,898, the largest for a home game this season … Marlon Stewart matched a career high with nine made field goals … The win was the first over Western Illinois since 1967 … UND moves to 2-8 this season when three-or-fewer score in double figures.