February 11, 2009

Men's basketball takes care of business vs. Johnson & Wales

BOX SCORE: vs. Johnson & Wales
STANDINGS: Big Sky Conference

GREELEY, Colo. -- Northern Colorado's 68-55 victory Tuesday night against Johnson & Wales (Colo.) wasn't a thing of beauty. 

But it was a win. And in the end, every Bear got in on the act in front of the home crowd at Butler-Hancock Sports Pavilion.

Senior Jabril Banks led the way with 11 points in limited time, and junior Will Figures was right behind with 10 points and an assist.

Every other Northern Colorado player, including walk-ons Matt Dunsmoor and Lee Hall, scored at least two points in the game that saw the Bears play lockdown first-half defense, en route to a 32-16 halftime lead.

Northern Colorado then pushed that advantage all the way to 24 points in the second half before head coach Tad Boyle got his deep bench players some minutes.

"We played very well in the first half," Boyle said. "But in the second half, we certainly didn't play, as a team, like I would have liked. They (the Wildcats) played some zone, and we haven't seen a lot of that this year.

"It was just an opportunity tonight for us to get better and get some experience. We got a lot of guys some playing time that don't normally get as much. So, from that stand point, hopefully we can gain something from this."

Northern Colorado, the newest member of the Big Sky Conference, is the league's "lone wolf" in terms of scheduling. So Tuesday night's game and Thursday's against North Dakota, if nothing else, should keep the Bears fresh and in competition mode in a Big Sky week that doesn't include Northern Colorado.

Boyle constantly preaches "team" to his players. He would have liked for his "team" to be able to finish off what some of the regulars started Tuesday night against the NAIA Division II Wildcats from Denver.

"One of the things we talked about before the game was playing together," Boyle said. "And I think we did that for the most part. I do think, though, that we could have shot a much better percentage than we did. So we've got to go look at the film and get better. That's what these games are for. It may not be the most formidable foe, but it's an opportunity for us to get better as a program."

It also provided Boyle and his assistants a chance to reward some of their players who have been giving it their all in practice, alongside the frontline guys.

Dunsmoor, a senior walk-on out of Pueblo West, and Hall, a freshman from Denver, scored the first points of their collegiate careers Tuesday night -- much to the delight of the 1,117 in attendance.

Hall's points came at the free-throw line, where he finished a perfect 2-2. Dunsmoor's bucket came on a layup, following a slick baseline move.

"I heard (from the crowd) I should have dunked on them every single time," Dunsmoor said. "As much fun as (scoring) was, I did have a bad foul and a bad turnover. So, I'd like to dwell on the good. But, unfortunately, when reality sets in tomorrow during film, I'm sure that's going to come up."

Probably so. This game was, after all, against Johnson & Wales, a team not necessarily known for its basketball prowess.

But the Bears did get a win Tuesday night. And Boyle is sure to glean whatever lessons he can from the final box score and use them to his advantage on Thursday night against the Fightin' Sioux and down the road, as the Bears continue their quest to qualify for their first Big Sky Tournament.

"We want to build some momentum," Boyle said. "We got a big win here against Idaho State on Saturday night, and we got this one tonight. North Dakota is a much different team, and in ways a much more difficult team to play. They run the Princeton Offense, and they've got some shooters who can spread you. We gotta be ready to go on Thursday."