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Defending GWC Tournament Champion North Dakota Rallies to Punch Ticket to Championship Game to Face NJIT

UND's Jamal Webb

UND's Jamal Webb

March 9, 2012

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Defending GWC Tournament champion North Dakota overcame a 14-point halftime deficit to defeat Texas-Pan American, 63-59, in the semifinals of the 2012 GWC Basketball Tournament Friday. The Sioux will face NJIT in Saturday's championship game.

Jamal Webb scored a game-high 19 points and made back-to-back baskets in the closing two minutes to make sure his squad reached the GWC title game for the second straight season. Webb's second bucket in that stretch put the Sioux back ahead at 58-57.

After the Broncs missed a deep attempt from 3-point range, Aaron Anderson converted a three-point play the old-fashioned way with 11 seconds remaining to all but seal the victory. UTPA's Brandon Provost made a driving layup, but Anderson answered with two free throws to push the lead back to four, which is where it would end up at the final horn.

Anderson, an All-GWC honorable mention selection, finished with 12 points, while second team All-GWC honoree Troy Huff added 17 points and had five steals for the second straight game. Webb, also an honorable mention all-conference performer, added four steals as UND equaled its season high with 12 thefts.

The sophomore trio helped turn 19 UTPA turnovers into 21 points for the game and the defense allowed a season-low 22 points after the break.

Things looked bleak for the Sioux at the half despite a nice start to the game by UND. Mitch Wilmer capped an 8-0 run with a layup at the 8:18 mark, putting the Sioux ahead 23-17, but that would be the final basket of the half for the higher seed. The Sioux would go cold, missing their next six shots from the field, while the Broncs heated up. UTPA closed the half on a 20-0 run thanks to a 7-for-8 stretch from the floor.

That made it a 37-23 contest at the break. UND had only come back from a halftime deficit to win once before this season (vs. NDSU, trailed 27-23).

After a miss on their opening possession, the Sioux saw their deficit balloon to 16 after Aaron Urbanus connected for the Broncs with just under a minute gone in the second half. Webb missed a 3-pointer the next time down the floor, but he created a turnover with a ball steal and Brandon Brekke sparked what would turn into a 25-5 run over the next 12 minutes with a layup.

Brekke scored back-to-back baskets to tie the game at 44-44 with just over nine minutes to play and the Sioux would stretch the lead back to six at 50-44 before Provost silenced the run with his fourth 3-pointer of the game.

The Broncs, who had just three field goals in the first 15 minutes of the half, finally found their range making three straight to reclaim the lead at 52-50.

Provost broke a 54-54 tie with his fifth trifecta from the corner. Nick Weirmiller missed the front end of a one-and-one and Brekke quickly rebounded the miss, feeding Webb, who went coast-to-coast for a layup.

Brekke, who pulled down a game-high nine rebounds, went to the boards again after UTPA missed a short jumper, giving UND a chance to take the lead back. This time Webb went to the offensive glass for the go-ahead basket.  Anderson had a floater just roll off, but scooped up the loose ball, split two defenders and made his ninth field goal of the game.

Weirmiller tried a deep 3-pointer that was way off the mark on UTPA's next possession and that set the stage for Anderson to ice the game with five points in the final 11 seconds of play.

"I challenged them at halftime because UTPA was making all the energy plays, getting to every loose ball," said North Dakota coach Brian Jones. "I'm proud of our guys, even the coaches, for going into the locker-room calm. We believe in this team. I never do not believe in this team because they have shown me repeatedly this year and last year that they just know how to win. They know how to stay the course and how to get back into the game."

First-team All-GWC honoree Provost finished with a team-high 17 points for the Broncs, while Jesus Delgado scored all of his 13 points in the first half. Delgado also led his team on the boards with seven rebounds.

"Obviously it wasn't the outcome we had hoped for, but it was a privilege to be a part of a good college basketball game," said UTPA coach Ryan Marks. "When the season starts, we're all hoping to be playing meaningful games in March.  It's a credit to our guys for earning the third seed, playing in the semifinals and playing a very good game. That's something we have to feel very good and very proud about for our guys.  I think you have to give North Dakota a tremendous amount of credit--They have a good understanding of how to win close games."

UND will take on fourth-seeded NJIT in the championship game at 4 p.m. CT on Saturday. The Highlanders knocked off top-seeded Utah Valley in overtime, 88-78, in the first semifinal after edging Houston Baptist by one, 65-64, in the first round.