Avants drops 21 in return to home state, UND falls 83-72 at ORU

TULSA, Okla. (UND Athletics) -- Emmanuel Nzekwesi poured in a career-high 34 points while fellow forward Kevin Obanor scored 23 and grabbed a game-high eight rebounds to lead Oral Roberts past North Dakota, 83-72, on Thursday night in Tulsa.

UND (6-9, 0-2 Summit League) was led by Oklahoma native Conner Avants, who scored a team-high 21 points on 8-of-10 from the field while also collecting a team-high eight boards in his first collegiate contest in his home state.

In many ways, Thursday’s contest mirrored the previous defeat for North Dakota on Saturday vs. Purdue Fort Wayne as the Fighting Hawks were nearly able to rally out of a large deficit in the second half, but came up just short.

Cortez Seales crossed the 1,000-point plateau in his career with a pair of free throws in the second half. The senior joins Avants as active players to score over 1,000 points in their UND careers. Seales finished with eight points, three rebounds, four assists, and a steal.

Marlon Stewart notched his second straight game scoring in double figures with 11 points on a team-high 12 shot attempts. The junior added a trio of helpers and boards in a game-high 36 minutes of action.

While Stewart’s 11 led off the bench, UND reserves managed 32 points to outscore the Golden Eagles (6-11, 2-0 Summit League) by nine. Kienan Walter, Ethan Igbanugo, and Elijah Hazekamp each poured in six points off the bench while Zac Saddler grabbed four rebounds, including three on the offensive side, in just five minutes of action.

Oral Roberts won the rebounding battle, 32-27, handing North Dakota its fourth straight game where it failed to win the battle on the boards.

Turnovers plagued North Dakota in the early going, giving the ball away four times in the opening five minutes to allow the Golden Eagles to build a 15-12 lead despite the Hawks hitting four of their first five shots.

The script flipped in the middle portion of the half as Oral Roberts committed three in a short period to allow UND to tie the game at 17 after a Moody triple with just under 10 minutes to play in the opening frame.

Both teams continued to shoot the ball at a high clip through a majority of the stanza, with North Dakota finding holes in the Oral Roberts zone defense to build a 29-27 lead with 3:49 to play despite early foul trouble from both Avants and Walter.

Oral Roberts cranked up the defense over the final three minutes and change of the first half, holding the Hawks scoreless for the remainder of the frame while scoring seven unanswered points of its own to take a 34-29 lead into the locker room at the break.

The Golden Eagles hit 16-of-25 shots in the opening half for a .640 shooting clip while holding the Hawks to just 7-of-24 (.292) after the hot start from the field. Nzekwesi was a factor in the first 20 minutes for the hosts, scoring 17 points on 8-of-9 shooting to lead all players.

Oral Roberts didn’t slow down to begin the second half, pushing the advantage to 12, 45-33, before Stewart drilled his first three of the contest to bring the deficit back under double digits with 4:08 gone in the period. The made triple by Stewart was only a slight setback for the hosts, as ORU continued to pour it on to take a 54-38 lead with less than 14 minutes to play.

After the lead grew to as high as 17, UND began to claw back into the game thanks to some hot shooting from the reserves. Igbanugo and Hazekamp both drilled back-to-back threes followed by an Avants bucket inside to cut the advantage to six, 65-59, with just under seven minutes to play.

The Oklahoma native continued to dominate in the second half, hitting another bucket plus the foul to chip the deficit to four, 70-66, and push the senior over the 20-point plateau with 4:16 remaining. Oral Roberts responded, however, hitting back-to-back threes to restore its nine-point cushion, 78-69, with just under two minutes to play.

The four-point deficit was as close as UND would get as ORU converted its free throws down the stretch to close out an 83-72 victory.

North Dakota closes out the two-game road trip with a visit to the Mile High City for a battle with Denver on Saturday afternoon. The contest, slated for a 2 p.m. tip, can be seen live on Altitude 2.

NOTES: Thursday’s loss was the first meeting between North Dakota and Oral Roberts … Aanen Moody has now hit at least one three in all 15 games this season, sitting just two games behind Aaron Anderson’s DI record of 17 straight games … Oral Roberts shot at a 62.0% clip, the highest UND has allowed since Jan. 4, 2018 at Montana (61.8%) … The 34 points by Nzekwesi are the most by an opponent this season … UND falls to 1-8 this season when three-or-fewer players reach double figures in points.