LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — North Dakota coach Paul Sather didn’t know that the Fighting Hawks hadn’t beaten Nebraska since 1933 after they nipped the Huskers 75-74 Saturday
He just knew his team had played its best game of the year in a hostile environment.
“Good, that's nice to hear,” Sather said after being told about the Fighting Hawks' first win over the Cornhuskers in 83 years. “I'm just really happy for our guys. I mean it's it's a cool thing for them because it hasn't been an easy season... They showed a lot of belief in this team tonight and that was fun to see”
North Dakota (6-7) led for most of the game, going in front by seven midway through the first half, leading by five at intermission and expanding that lead to eight twice in the second half, the last at 61-53 after back-to-back layups by Marlon Stewart and Allen-Eikens.
“We really wanted to try to keep it more our pace,” Sather said. “And I thought for a lot of the game that kind of worked to our advantage a little bit... the pace of the game was going to be important for us because we're, we're working to come in here and beat them by scoring 90.”
Nebraska (5-7) put together an 8-0 run capped by a driving layup by Cam Mack to tie the score at 61 with 5:48 remaining. After trading baskets for three minutes, the Huskers followed a Dachon Burke driving layup with a Matej Kavas 3-pointer that put the Huskers up 71-69 with 1:43 left.
De’Sean Allen-Eikens grabbed a missed 3-pointer on the Fighting Hawks' next possession putting it back and drawing a Nebraska foul, then hit the free throw to give North Dakota a 72-71 lead. Another North Dakota putback, this time by Kienan Walter was countered by a Mack 3-pointer with 32 seconds left that tied the score at 74.
Allen-Eikens then missed a layup, but North Dakota grabbed the rebound and Allen-Eikens was fouled and hit one of two free throws. A 15-foot fadeaway jumper from Mack fell short at the buzzer, giving North Dakota the win.
“That's guys making plays, right,” Sather said of the final two minutes. “There's no X's and O's and coaching philosophy that does that. That's players out there making plays and stepping up and finishing plays and finishing free throws and getting rebounds and that stop at the end where he slowed them down in transition and forced the jumper. That was as big a play as anything else.”
Marlon Stewart, who led North Dakota with 23 points, agreed with Sather that North Dakota played its best game of the season Saturday.
“I'm kind of sad it took this long,” he said. “Yeah, I'd say this is the best game we played and especially because we've been playing road games basically all year. And this is a tough crowd to play against. They got a nice gym, nice setup, amazing fans. So it was a test for us and we responded very well.”
Nebraska coach Fred Hoiberg was disappointed with the loss, which came six days after the Huskers beat Purdue 70-56 with their best performance of the year.
“We let them come out and get confident early because of our lack of defensive energy and intensity,” Hoiberg said. "To have this type of effort is very disappointing. It is very discouraging to come out here after I thought we’d turned the corner a little bit. By the time we decided it was time to play, it was too late and we just couldn’t quite climb over the hump.”
THE BIG PICTURE
Nebraska: The Huskers have lost four games to non-power five conference teams this season, falling to UC Riverside, Southern Utah, George Mason and North Dakota.
North Dakota: The win was North Dakota’s first win over a Big Ten conference opponent since it beat Nebraska on Dec. 29, 1933. The Fighting Hawks are now 4-40 against Big Ten opponents.
Nebraska: The Cornhuskers host Texas A&M- Corpus Christi on Dec. 29.
North Dakota: The Fighting Hawks travel to Oregon State on Dec. 29.