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North Dakota Fighting Hawks win Big Sky for first NCAA Tournament berth

North Dakota forward Josh Collins celebrates the team’s win over Weber State in an NCAA college basketball game during the final of the Big Sky tournament in Reno, Nevada, on Saturday, March 11, 2017. (Lance Iversen / Associated Press)
North Dakota forward Josh Collins celebrates the team’s win over Weber State in an NCAA college basketball game during the final of the Big Sky tournament in Reno, Nevada, on Saturday, March 11, 2017. (Lance Iversen / Associated Press)
Associated Press

RENO, Nev. – North Dakota senior guard Quenton Hooker remembers how tough it was to lose to Weber State as a freshman in the 2012 Big Sky Conference Tournament.

He also remembers it as a sophomore and as a junior.

“Ever since my freshman year, they’ve always been the team to knock us out,” Hooker said. “I remember seeing them celebrate in their home gym. I remember leaving and thinking, `I want that. We want that. This program deserves that.’ It took some ups and downs. but to do that (win the championship), it really is special.”

Top-seeded North Dakota beat Weber State 93-89 in overtime on Saturday night to win the Big Sky Conference Tournament championship and get the program’s first NCAA Tournament berth.

Since joining the Big Sky in 2012, North Dakota (22-9) has had its chances to win the tournament and make the NCAA Tournament, but Weber State (19-13) always stood in the way.

North Dakota rallied with a 20-9 run to force overtime after falling behind 72-61 with 7:26 left.

Geno Crandall’s layup with 7 seconds tied the game at 81.

In the extra period, Crandall and Hooker combined for 10 of North Dakota’s 12 points.

“They’ve knocked us out of this tournament every year, so it’s just a day for us to exercise our demons,” North Dakota coach Brian Jones said.

Center Conner Avants added 13 points on 6-of-14 shooting, and Corey Baldwin scored 10 points. Jeremy Senglin led the third-seeded Wildcats with 26 points. Kyndahl Hill added 21 points and 12 rebounds.

“It’s exciting,” Weber State coach Randy Rahe said. “It’s what you play for. You play all season to try to get there (the championship game). We’ve won our share. We’ve lost our share. If you get there enough times, you’re not going to win them all.”

Senglin passed Bruce Collins (1976-1980) for the most points in Weber State history (2,030).

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