N-J-I-T (15-16) vs. North Dakota (16-14)
Saturday, March 10, 5:30 p.m. (ET)
The Sports Network
By Nicholas DeLorenzo, Associate College Basketball Editor
FACTS & STATS: Site: Jones Convocation Center (7,000) -- Chicago, Illinois. Television: None. Home Record: NJIT 11-4, UND 13-1. Away Record: NJIT 3-12, UND 2-13. Neutral Record: NJIT 1-0, UND 1-0. Conference Record: NJIT 5-5, UND 6-4. Series Record: NJIT leads, 4-3.
GAME NOTES: The Great West Conference Tournament concludes this evening with either the fourth-seeded NJIT Highlanders or the second-seeded North Dakota Fighting Sioux being crowned the champion and earning an automatic bid to the Collegeinsider.com Tournament.
NJIT had a modest season in the Great West, winning just as many games as it lost (5-5), but it earned a spot in the conference tournament, where it has proven it belongs. First the Highlanders squeaked by fifth-seeded Houston Baptist in the first round, 65-64, then they played another neck-and-neck game to top-seeded Utah Valley, coming away victorious 88-78 in overtime to advance to today's championship game. NJIT has now won four straight games dating back to the regular season, its longest winning streak of the season.
As the defending Great West Conference Tournament champion, North Dakota followed up the title run with another solid season with a 6-4 conference record, earning the second-seed in the tournament. The Fighting Sioux held on to defeat third-seeded Texas-Pan American in the semifinals on Friday, 63-59, marking their fifth straight win. With a win today, UND would capture its 19th title.
NJIT leads the all-time series over North Dakota, 4-3. The teams split the season series this year.
NJIT had a fantastic day shooting the ball in its semifinal match, shooting 51.8 percent from the floor, including 11-of-21 from three-point range. It was also able to stifle the tournaments top seed, forcing Utah Valley to connect on a lowly 34.3 percent of its field goals. Four players scored in double figures for the Highlanders, including Chris Flores, who went for a season- high 27 points while also contributing five assists, four rebounds, and three steals. Isaiah Wilkerson added 15 points as his continued his impressive campaign. The senior guard leads the league in scoring with 16.1 ppg and leads his team in rebounding (6.6 rpg), and steals (1.8 spg), which were numbers good enough to earn him the Great West Conference Player of the Year. Flores (12.5 ppg, 3.2 apg) and Ryan Woods (9.4 ppg) are also solid contributors to an offense that scores 69.6 ppg on 42.1 percent field goal shooting.
Down 14 points at halftime against Texas-Pan American, it seemed unlikely that North Dakota would be advancing to their second straight championship game, but thanks to a second half in which it shot 55.6 percent from the floor, UND climbed all the way back, taking the lead for good on a Jamal Webb layup with 1:28 remaining. Webb finished with 19 points to lead the Sioux, while Troy Huff added 17 points and Aaron Anderson chipped in 12. On the season, the Sioux score 67.1 ppg, and they lead the Great West in field goal percentage at .444. Huff has been the team's catalyst on the season, scoring 13.0 ppg and grabbing 5.9 boards per contest. Aaron Anderson nets 11.2 ppg on more than 50 percent field goal shooting and Patrick Webb brings 10.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg, and 1.5 bpg to the mix.
Not surprisingly, the two hottest teams in the Great West face off for the right to be crowned the champion. North Dakota has the experience on its side, but NJIT's run has been even more incredible this postseason, and the Highlanders will muster up one more big win to pull off an improbable championship run.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: NJIT 67, North Dakota 65
03/10 10:46:06 ET