Jan. 14—GRAND FORKS — UND followed the same script it has followed in a handful of games this season: Dig a big hole early, crawl out of it in the final minutes, then struggle to close the deal at the end.
But the script is getting old.
UND struggled early, played well in the second half but didn't have enough at the end to beat Western Illinois on Thursday night at The Betty. Western Illinois hung on to beat the Fighting Hawks 73-68. The loss dropped UND to 0-5 in the Summit League and 4-14 overall. And it doesn't get any easier for the Hawks, who will play their next four games on the road.
UND had 16 turnovers — two in the final 30 seconds after the Hawks cut the deficit to 69-66. And the Hawks went 12-for-19 at the line as well. The Leathernecks scored 22 points off UND turnovers and also came up with 14 offensive boards.
The loss mirrored Monday night's home loss against South Dakota. A sluggish final five minutes of the first half was the difference in a 75-58 loss to the Yotes.
"At some point, figure it out," said UND coach Paul Sather. "Don't be so casual to start the game. They (players) have to take some ownership and some responsibility in that, too. As a head coach, you have so many times that you can go the banana route and go nuts. You have to have it where they're holding each other accountable. And that's what we're going through right now."
UND trailed by 12 with 13 minutes to go. UND's Matt Norman, however, took over hitting from long range. He finished with 27 points and his basket with 57 seconds to go brought the Hawks to within 69-66.
Western Illinois couldn't convert on its ensuing possession and the Hawks had a chance for the tie with 25 seconds to go. But their 15th turnover of the game led to Trenton Massner's free throw for a 70-66 lead. Another UND turnover resulted in Colton Sandage's three-point play for a 73-66 lead that effectively ended UND's chances.
"We just have to come together, talk and hold each other accountable," said Norman, who was 10-for-15 from the field. "We dug ourselves a hole in the first 25 minutes. We can't do that anymore."
Bentiu Panoam added 18 points for UND but they were the only two players in double figures.
"It's super frustrating, just trying to fight through these games," said Panoam. "You just have to have all 10 toes in. It's the little slip-ups and turnovers. We had 16 turnovers and that's extra possessions for them and we just can't do that. It's tough to be down 16 and bring it to a one possession game and then try to get over that hump. So, yeah, it's tough to sustain that energy."
UND was scheduled to play St. Thomas on Saturday, but COVID protocols in the Tommies' program have postponed that game.
The Hawks will play road games next week at Oral Roberts and Kansas City.
The loss was a difficult one, considering how well UND played at times down the stretch.
"This is a game that you don't lose the way we lost," said Sather. "This is a game you walk off the floor with a win. And we didn't do that. You have to give Western Illinois credit for that. But it was a lot of our own issues more than anything else."