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Fighting Hawks remain hopeful things will turn around

GRAND FORKS, N.D.—The start to the Big Sky Conference men's basketball season isn't what the University of North Dakota anticipated.

The Fighting Hawks are 0-4 in the league heading into Friday night's home game against Idaho State at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center.

If there is a silver lining, it could be this: Thus far, UND's four Big Sky opponents are a combined 13-3 in league play, including 4-0 Montana—the team that appears to be the conference favorite after the first two weeks.

Also, if Wednesday's practice is an indication, UND players still have a belief they can make a difference in Big Sky play. The practice was one of the more spirited and crisp sessions the team has had in recent weeks.

"We're sick of losing," said UND freshman Tray Buchanan, who has provided a spark off the bench lately for the Hawks. "We're really competitive, and we really want to win. We've been down and this is a must win. So I think the energy we need to get that win was brought to the practice."

UND (4-11) has dropped eight straight overall, its longest losing streak since the Hawks lost their final nine games of the 2014-15 season.

Idaho State, meanwhile, is enjoying one of its better seasons in recent years. The Bengals are 3-0 in the league and have won eight of their last nine games overall, the only loss coming at Brigham Young University (85-71).

Buchanan, a true freshman from East Moline, Ill., has provided some toughness off the bench and now is the team's second-best, 3-point shooter (18-for-56).

"I've been confident shooting the ball, said the 6-foot-1 guard. "But seeing the shots begin to fall gets you going even more."

UND's perimeter shooting has struggled throughout the season as the Hawks are shooting 44 percent overall but only 28 percent beyond the arc. And UND's perimeter play was supposed to be the team's strength at the beginning of the season.

UND coach Brian Jones, however, said his team continues to show signs of improvement. Last week's game at Montana State, which followed a lopsided loss at Montana two days earlier, contained a number of positives he hopes will help the Hawks against Idaho State Thursday, Jan. 11, and against perennial league power Weber State on Saturday, Jan 13.

"Obviously, we didn't play the way we wanted to on many fronts at Montana," said Jones. "But I was proud of our effort and refocus (at Montana State). I think we got better.

"The season hasn't started the way we wanted but it's still about getting better. There has been a lot of growth. Hopefully, we can string things together and get some wins.

"I'm excited about where we're headed. I know fans may not think that. But I love this team; we're getting better. We're going to hit our stride. I just can't tell you when that's going to happen."

UND plays Idaho State at UND at 7 p.m. on Jan. 11 at the Betty Center. Of note: Idaho State is 0-6 all time in Grand Forks. Also, the Hawks have won all nine Big Sky games against the Bengals.

Wayne Nelson
Nelson is the sports editor of the Herald
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