February 12, 2009

Men's basketball holds off North Dakota in blast from NCC past

BOX SCORE: vs. North Dakota
STANDINGS: Big Sky Conference

GREELEY, Colo. -- Northern Colorado shot a sizzling 60 percent as a team Thursday night in its 80-72 nonconference victory over former NCC foe North Dakota at Butler-Hancock Sports Pavilion.

The Bears also had four players score in double figures in the win, highlighted by Will Figures' 20, as they put the finishing touches on this season-long four-game homestand and completed just the third three-game winning streak in Northern Colorado's last six seasons.

Sophomore Devon Beitzel chipped in 15 against the Fighting Sioux, and junior John Pena added 13 for the Bears (12-15, 6-6 Big Sky), who will now take a week off before traveling to Oregon to take on Portland State on Thursday, Feb. 19.

The 60 percent shooting in the game is the second highest percentage Northern Colorado has finished a game with this season (.608 vs. Texas State on Nov. 29).

And the Bears needed it.

North Dakota (11-11) ended the game at 59.5 percent from the field and 61 percent from beyond the three-point arc.

"North Dakota shot the ball extremely well tonight," Northern Colorado coach Tad Boyle said. "They're a good team. (If) they shoot the ball like that, they are going to beat a lot of teams. But I didn't think our defense was that bad. Sometimes you've just got to tip your hat. North Dakota made shots tonight, made some tough shots."

Northern Colorado held a 43-41 halftime advantage Thursday night before pushing its lead to nine, 65-56, with just under 10 minutes to go in the game.

The Sioux scored the next nine points, though, to tie the game at 65 with 6:12 to go.

Figures then put Northern Colorado on his back, scoring seven straight points and putting the Bears up for good. Figures notched five of those points at the free-throw line, where he finished 10-11.

"We were in the bonus there near the end," Figures said. "So in that case, you want to attack and get to the free-throw line. When they come out and pressure you, I know that we can drive past, and they'll grab you and you can get to the line. We just all made some free throws tonight down the stretch to pull away."

The Bears connected on 10 of 14 free throws in the final five minutes against North Dakota, and Northern Colorado didn't miss from the field (1-1) or from three-point land (1-1) in that stretch.

That's usually a recipe for success, regardless of the opponent.

"We knew (North Dakota) would come out ready to play," Figures said. "They are trying to prove themselves. They are a program like we were -- we were trying to prove ourselves a couple years ago, we still are proving ourselves -- so I knew they would come out tonight and play their hardest."

They might have played their hardest, but in the end Northern Colorado's toughness won out. The Bears outrebounded North Dakota 15-3 in the first half and finished with a 26-16 rebounding edge.

North Dakota, in its first year of transitioning to a Division I program after playing against Northern Colorado for so many years in the North Central Conference, came into the game Thursday night with a 39-17 advantage in the series.

The Bears used to be a pushover for the Sioux, but not anymore.

"I'm proud of the way we finished off the game tonight," Boyle said. "We're a good free-throw shooting team, so if we miss them, I'm surprised. We didn't miss too many of them tonight and were able to knock off a good North Dakota team. Now we've just got to get back to work and see if we can't continue our season on past our next four games."