EDINBURG, Texas (UND Athletics) -- North Dakota committed a season-high 30 turnovers, including 23 in the opening half, as the Fighting Hawks fell, 70-56, at UT Rio Grande Valley on Wednesday night at UTRGV Fieldhouse.
UND (4-5) finished with a higher shooting percentage than the host-Vaqueros (7-4), .367 to .361, but allowed UTRGV to turn those 30 turnovers into 29 points to come away with the 14-point triumph.
Four UTRGV players reached double figures in the win, led by Javon Levi’s 15 points and six steals. Cortez Seales poured in a game-high 17 points on 7-of-12 from the field while matching the team lead with seven rebounds. The senior has now reached double figures in seven of the first nine games this season.
Kienan Walter had his strongest performance since his return from injury by reaching double figures for the first time since Nov. 10 at Milwaukee with 15 points and seven boards.
North Dakota got out to a strong start defensively, holding the Vaqueros scoreless for the opening 3:35 of the contest and forcing a pair of early turnovers as both teams went into the opening media break tied at 4-4.
Turnovers turned into a problem for the visitors as the half wore on, as the Fighting Hawks were forced into seven giveaways in the first six minutes of the contest. UND was able to hang around thanks to solid defense, however, as UTRGV missed five of its first seven from the floor to give the hosts a 6-4 lead with 14:18 to play in the first.
After the Hawks grabbed a 7-6 lead following a three from Brown, UTGRV once again cranked up the defensive pressure to force a trio of turnovers to help spark a 6-0 run to take a 12-7 lead before a Seales jumper from the elbow cut the deficit to 12-9 with 12 minutes remaining. The Seales jumper didn’t alleviate much of the pressure from UTRGV as the Vaqueros scored 11 of the next 13 points to take a 21-11 lead with 7:41 left in the first.
UTRGV maintained its advantage for the remainder of the half, pushing the lead to as high as 17 before heading to the locker room with a 35-18 cushion. UND committed 23 turnovers in the first half, the most in an entire game this season.
Despite battling some foul trouble early in the first half, Rebraca came out with a strong start to his second half by scoring four of the team’s first six points of the frame and helping set up a triple from Panoam to cut the deficit down to 12, 39-27, with just over 15 minutes remaining in the half.
After cutting the lead to 12, the Vaqueros used a 15-3 run thanks to a 4-for-5 start to the second half from downtown to extend their advantage to 54-30 with just over 12 minutes to play in regulation.
Seales continued his strong second half, converting a pair of traditional 3-point plays to cross into double figures for the seventh time in nine contests this season to help UND whittle the deficit down to 16, 57-41, with 7:41 remaining. Walter also found his rhythm in the final frame, crossing into double figures for the first time since Nov. 10 at Milwaukee to help swing momentum towards the visitors.
The senior collected a steal, drove in transition, and hit a layup before drilling another jumper in transition to cut the UTRGV lead down to just 11, 61-50, with 3:46 to play. Seales then hit a pair from the charity stripe to bring UND within single digits for the first time since the 9:12 mark of the first half.
The nine-point deficit was as close as the Hawks would get, however, as the Vaqueros held off the late charge by the visitors for a 70-56 victory.
North Dakota returns home on Sunday afternoon against Milwaukee with tipoff slated for 3 p.m. on FOX Sports North.
NOTES: With the UTRGV win, the WAC claims the inaugural Summit League/WAC Challenge Series with five victories … UND has now lost 12 straight games in the month of December dating back to Dec. 7, 2016 at NDSU … UTRGV finished with a 37-36 advantage on the glass … UND falls to 0-3 this season when failing to score 60-or-more points.