UTRGV beats North Dakota to open four-game homestand

University of Texas Rio Grande Valley forward Terry Winn III (3) drives to the basket against North Dakota in a non n conference game at the UTRGV Fieldhouse on Wednesday, Dec 5, 2018, in Edinburg.

EDINBURG — The UTRGV defense was unforgiving and unrelenting to the North Dakota Fighting Hawks.

The Vaqueros forced the Fighting Hawks into 30 turnovers, including 23 of them in the first half as UTRGV ran past North Dakota 70-56 Wednesday at the UTRGV Fieldhouse.

“When a team turns it over, there’s usually a reason why they turn it over,” UTRGV coach Lew Hill said. “If we don’t steal it, then we’re forcing turnovers by making them play faster than they want to play. We make them make quick decisions and get guys to handle the ball that don’t normally handle the ball. That’s why those turnovers happened.”

A week earlier at Houston, UTRGV faced a Cougar team that made 43.4 percent of their 3-pointers and forced them to shoot 6-for-23 (26 percent) from long range in a five-point loss.

North Dakota (4-5) entered Wednesday shooting 38 percent from the 3-point line, but the Vaqueros held the Fighting Hawks to only 5 of 16 makes from 3-point range.

“We tried to put a lot of pressure on them and run them off the 3-point line,” UTRGV point guard Javon Levi said. “Guard shooters, trap them everywhere we can and don’t let them into their offense. We didn’t want them to be comfortable.”

“I like to play teams that mirror the top teams in our league,” Hill said. “That way we can get ahead of the game. When we play the New Mexico States, the Grand Canyons or the Seattles, we’ve played like them already.”

Levi did a little bit of everything in victory. He led the team with 15 points, made two 3-pointers, hauled in six rebounds, had six steals and recorded three assists for UTRGV.

Levi, UTRGV’s leader in minutes played, played a team-high 32 minutes, 24 seconds on Wednesday.

“We condition pretty well in the offseason, so we’re all in pretty good shape,” Levi said.

UTRGV had three other players score in double figures thanks to Jordan Jackson (13 points), Terry Winn III (12 points) and Greg Bowie II (10 points).

Winn made four field goals in a game for the first time since UTRGV’s Nov. 19 game against East Carolina. He averaged 15.4 points through the first five games of the season, but scored no more than eight points in the five games leading into Wednesday night.

“I wasn’t struggling. I just wasn’t taking as many shots,” Winn said. “I took more shots than I usually took tonight, that’s all. My teammates told me to shoot the ball, so I shot the ball.”

UTRGV (7-4) started its four-game homestand with a win and also wrapped up the Summit League/WAC Challenge in favor of the Western Athletic Conference. All nine teams from the WAC and Summit League have met or will meet in nine nonconference games in the inaugural event. The WAC owns a 5-2 advantage over the Summit League.

“Any time you have a Challenge set up, you want to win it,” Hill said. “We’re competitors. It didn’t matter who it was, but winning happened to be more special because we won the game and the (Summit League/WAC) Challenge.”

nkotisso@themonitor.com