Fighting Hawks fall, 78-63, to South Dakota in regular season finale

VERMILLION, S.D. (UND Athletics) -- In a battle between two of the top defensive teams in the conference, it was South Dakota who prevailed in Saturday’s regular season finale as the Coyotes defeated North Dakota, 78-63, at the Sanford Coyotes Sports Center.

With the loss, UND (12-17, 6-10 Summit League) drops to the No. 7 seed for next weekend’s Summit League Tournament in Sioux Falls while the Coyotes (13-16, 7-9 Summit League) will be the sixth seed. The loss, along with the other results around the league, locked in the No. 2 seed Omaha as UND’s opponent in the quarterfinals.

Fresh off his career-high 32 points in the win over Purdue Fort Wayne on Thursday, Cortez Seales was dynamic again in the loss for the Fighting Hawks. The senior led all scorers with 19 points on 8-of-18 from the field while also collecting three rebounds and an assists in his final regular season game in a UND uniform. Seales has now reached double figures in nine straight games, the longest stretch of his career and the longest by a UND player this season.

Marlon Stewart finished as the game’s second-leading scorer behind Seales with 17 points in a team-high 33 minutes. The junior hit a pair of triples to pace UND’s three in the contest while also dishing out five assists.

Conner Avants continues to look strong in his return from injury, just missing a double-double with 12 points and nine rebounds. The nine rebounds are the most in a game for the senior since he had 11 vs. Milwaukee on Dec. 9. The senior also shot 50.0% from the floor, marking only the sixth time in 23 games that he has shot 50% or lower.

After the trio of scorers, the rest of the UND team was limited to just 15 points as five South Dakota players reached double figures in the win.

The three-point shot proved to be the difference in the contest, as South Dakota finished with 10 makes from distance to just three for the Hawks. UND claimed the rebounding battle, 35-31, to suffer only its second loss this season when winning the battle on the boards.

North Dakota got off to the start it was looking for, connecting on five of its first seven shots to take an early 12-6 lead less than five minutes into the contest. Stewart drilled back-to-back triples before hitting another long two to force the South Dakota timeout.

Out of the timeout, USD started to climb back into the game with a 10-0 spurt of its own to jump in front, 15-12, near the midway point of the half. From there, both teams went back-and-forth as the defense was strong for both sides throughout much of the stanza.

The Coyotes connected on five of their first nine attempts from three to create some separation before an Avants jumper in the paint cut the USD lead to just a pair, 33-31, heading into the halftime break.

Neither side could get anything going offensively to start the second half, with Seales finally breaking the dry spell with a quick five points prior to the media timeout. Following back-to-back strong plays at the rim by Filip Rebraca and a 1-for-2 trip to the charity stripe by Seales trimmed the South Dakota advantage down to one, 44-43, the ensuing two-minute stretch haunted the Fighting Hawks for the rest of the game.

Aanen Moody was called for a flagerant-1 foul following a turnover that allowed USD to record a four-point possession before Cody Kelley hit back-to-back threes, including while getting fouled on his second make, to all of a sudden put the Coyotes up 56-45 with just under 11 minutes to play.

UND trimmed the deficit down to eight on a pair of occasions, but that was as close as the Hawks would get as South Dakota held on for the 15-point victory.

North Dakota will now travel down to Sioux Falls for the 2019 Summit League Men’s Basketball Tournament where the Fighting Hawks will battle No. 2 seed Omaha on Saturday night at 8:30 p.m.