Comeback effort falls short for UND in 74-60 defeat at Valpo

VALPARAISO, Ind. (UND Athletics) -- Despite four players reaching double figures and a strong rally in the second half, the University of North Dakota men’s basketball team fell, 74-60, at Valparaiso on Sunday afternoon from the Athletics Recreation Center in Valparaiso, Ind.

Marlon Stewart paced the Fighting Hawks (1-2) for the second straight game with 17 points on 7-of-14 from the field, including 2-of-3 from distance, while adding three rebounds, and a trio of assists in a game-high 36 minutes of action. Three other UND players reached double figures in the loss, with freshman De’Sean Allen-Eikens dropping 14 points and five rebounds to score 10+ in his first three games of his career. Kienan Walter and Filip Rebraca each tallied 11 points, with the Serbian just missing his third straight double-double with five boards. Both finished with four assists as well to lead the team.

As a team, UND shot the ball better than the Crusaders (3-1), but the hosts were able to take 16 more shots due to 15 offensive rebounds and 20 UND turnovers. The Hawks did limit Valpo to just eight makes from distance and a 6-of-13 day from the charity stripe.

Javon Freeman-Liberty scored a game-high 21 points in the win for Valpo, just missing a double-double with a game-best nine rebounds and five assists.

North Dakota jumped out to a strong start, building an 11-5 lead less than six minutes into the contest, as the visitors were able to keep the Crusaders off balance with a strong mix of scoring and good defense. UND held the hosts to just 2-of-10 from the field in the opening moments of the game to build the early advantage.

Valparaiso responded with a run of its own, however, embarking on a 20-4 run over the next eight minutes to take a 25-15 lead with 4:15 to play in the first half. UND answered right back with nine of the next 11 points, to cut the deficit down to just three, 27-24, entering the final two minutes of the stanza. Walter started the run with a triple from the left before Brady Danielson added a layup to cut the lead down to six. Rebraca put the finishing touches on the run, converting a three-point play, but the Crusaders finished the period with the final six points to take a 33-24 lead into the halftime break.

In the second half, another Walter three allowed the Hawks to trim the deficit down to eight early in the period, but Valpo was able to crank up the pressure to force turnovers and convert baskets. The Crusaders built their largest lead of the afternoon, 17, near the midway portion of the half.

UND didn’t say die, however, cutting the lead down to 10 on a trio of occasions thanks to Stewart’s 13 second-half points, but the Crusaders held off the late push for the victory.

North Dakota closes out the three-game road trip on Tuesday evening with a showdown against Milwaukee.