December 22, 2008

Beitzel Stays Hot; Bears Lose Another Heartbreaker

BOX SCORE: vs. Liberty (Las Vegas Classic)

LAS VEGAS, Nev. -- A lot of good happened in the Bears' game against Liberty on Monday afternoon in their third game of the 2008 Findlay Toyota Las Vegas Classic.

Sophomore Devon Beitzel continued his torrid shooting, nine players ended up in the scoring column, the Bears easily won the rebounding battle, and Northern Colorado held a 12-point lead on more than one occasion in the first half.

­­­One thing went badly for the Bears, though.

And that one thing - two things, if you want - stung the most when this one ended in a 75-70 loss inside the Orleans Arena.

The Bears, now 3-8 on the year, were nursing a 70-69 lead with just over a minute remaining Tuesday when senior Jabril Banks strode to the free-throw line for a one-and-one opportunity, a chance to further Northern Colorado's advantage in a close ballgame. 

But Banks missed his first attempt, and Liberty responded by racing back the other way for a layup and a one-point bulge, 71-70.

Northern Colorado's next possession played out the same way -- only this time it was Beitzel missing the front end and the Flames getting their points on free throws and moving ahead four, 74-70.

And, in essence, that was the game. Another heartbreaker for head coach Tad Boyle's squad in a young season already filled with some mind-numbing defeats.

This is the Bears' seventh game out of 11 this season that has been decided by fewer than 10 points.

Northern Colorado will now move on to face Southern (0-11), which lost 71-43 to South Carolina-Upstate in the first game Monday. The Bears and Jaguars will tip at 12:30 p.m. (MT) Tuesday, inside the Orleans Arena.

The Bears Radio Network (1310 KFKA) will carry the game live on its Web site (1310kfka.com), and an online TV broadcast of the contest will also be available for purchase ($8) at b2tv.com.

"We're getting better," Boyle said. "Our record does not reflect it, but we're getting better as a basketball team. Liberty's a good team. They've beaten some good teams this year, and they're very hard to guard. But we still could have won the game -- in my mind should have won the game. But it doesn't mean a whole lot right now. We are where we are."

Beitzel hit eight of his 13 shots Monday and finished with 21 points. He came into Saturday's game against San Jose State having never topped the 16-point mark, but he's now eclipsed that total in subsequent contests after posting a career-high 27 points against the Spartans.

Beitzel also set a career high Monday against Liberty by hitting five of nine three-pointers and helping Northern to a 38-32 halftime lead. But even that was a little bit of a letdown after holding those two big leads at various points early on.

The Bears were up 36-24 at the 3:17 mark in the first half but only scored two more points in the next five minutes of play, extending into the second period.

Northern Colorado shot 63 percent in the first 20 minutes but cooled to 38 percent in the second. Liberty was cold at first (33 percent) but finished on fire (55 percent).

"At halftime, I told our guys, ‘We've got a great margin in field-goal percentage, but we've got 12 turnovers. We should be up 16, rather than six.' The one thing we were able to do last year - and we've been able to do it to a certain extent this year - is overcome those turnovers. But at some point, it's too tough.

"With that being said, though, we still could have overcome tonight. We miss two front ends of one-and-ones down the stretch. You can't do that and win close ballgames."

A game after pulling his entire starting five in the second half against San Jose State, Boyle trotted out his seventh different starting lineup Monday against Liberty. Sophomores Chris Kaba and Neal Kingman and freshman Mike Proctor started for the first time this season, while Yahosh Bonner (three previous starts) and Taylor Montgomery (seven starts in a row) rounded out Boyle's first five.

But the initial spark provided by Boyle's shuffle didn't last until the end of the game, and Liberty was too much, paced by Seth Curry's game-high 30 points. Curry's the nation's leading freshman scorer and the brother of Davidson star Stephen Curry.

"Losing is not fun," Boyle said. "Quite frankly, losing sucks. You can't sugarcoat it; you can't put it any other way. Until we figure out the little things - and that's what our team has to figure out: little things make the difference - you're not going to beat anybody."