December 29, 2008

Beitzel Does It Again As Bears Start Big Sky Play With a Splash

BOX SCORE: vs. Northern Arizona

GREELEY, Colo. -- It's becoming somewhat of a broken record to discuss Devon Beitzel's scoring heroics for Northern Colorado's men's basketball team.

That's appropriate, though. Because all he's done lately is set or break team records.

Beitzel, a sophomore, tied another NCAA Division I program record Monday night by scoring 32 points in the Bears' 81-79 victory against Northern Arizona in the Big Sky Conference opener for both teams inside Butler-Hancock Sports Pavilion.

He splashed in 11 shots from the field (one shy of his own program mark), knocked in five attempts from three-point land (tying his career high) and dropped in five free throws, becoming just the third player in the school's Division I history to score 30 points in a game.

The outburst is the most by a Big Sky Conference player this season and marks the third game out of the last four that he's added his name to the Bears' record books. He tied a program mark with 12 field goals in a single game against San Jose State on Saturday, Dec. 20, then set three free-throw marks (attempts, makes and makes in a row) against Southern on Tuesday, Dec. 23.

"The shots keep falling for me, so I'm going to keep putting them up," Beitzel said. "Coach has been talking to me to attack the basket and either put the shots in or get to the free-throw line, where I'm usually pretty good. Overall, we're all just knocking down shots. It's a lot of fun right now."

Beitzel's now scored 20 or more points in four straight games for the Bears (5-8, 1-0 Big Sky Conference) -- after having never scored more than 16 points in a game in his career.

"He's a great player," said Northern Colorado junior Will Figures, who added 16 points Monday night and knocked in a pair of free throws with 6.1 seconds left to seal the win. "He was like that in high school, so to see him coming out and starting to get confidence and playing like that the last couple games is really nice to see. He's proved himself, and he's still proving himself. He was amazing tonight."

"He's just playing with extreme confidence right now," Northern Colorado coach Tad Boyle said. "I don't know if we've had a player play as well as consistently for a four- or five-game stretch than Devon has. He has separated himself and established himself as kind of go-to-guy for us. And he's playing with poise -- he's not speeding it up. It's almost like the game is in slow-motion for him right now.

"I'm just proud of him. Really proud."

The Lumberjacks (3-8, 0-1), have been one of the best teams in the Big Sky Conference for much of the past decade, but they came into Monday night's game a struggling bunch looking to take advantage of the fresh start a new conference season brings.

And Northern Arizona looked every bit that team in the first 20 minutes Monday night, shooting 61 percent from the field (17-28) and taking a 42-32 lead into the break.

But Boyle lit a fire under his players during what must have been a heated halftime "discussion," and the Bears subsequently went on a 22-7 run in the first five-and-a-half minutes of the second half and found themselves up five at the 14:33 mark.

The run was highlighted by steals, crowd-frenzying, no-doubt dunks and crucial three-point plays -- everything Boyle hopes to see from his team on a consistent basis.

"We got out-toughed in the first half," Boyle said. "But in the second half, we came out and our guys showed what they're made of. I was a little worried about our team at halftime -- I didn't know how we would respond. I was concerned with how our mental makeup was going to be. But I think the first part of that second half really showed what this team is capable of."

Senior Jabil Banks (13) and sophomore Neal Kingman (10) joined Beitzel and Figures in double figures in the game, and Banks led all players in rebounds with six.

And junior John Pena set a career high with five steals, including one that had him in a sweet two-on-one situation that ended with a textbook no-look dish to Banks, who responded with one of his own trademark slams.

It happened with 16 minutes, eight seconds remaining in the game, but it exemplified the Bears' renewed second-half emphasis on being tough and taking care of the home floor.

And finally coming out on top in a game that could have gone either way down the stretch.

"We really wanted to come out tonight with a ton of energy," Figures said. "We wanted to let everyone in the league know that Northern Colorado is going to be here the whole year. And to get a victory against a very tough team like we did tonight means a lot."

NOTES: Northern Colorado is now 2-1 all-time in Big Sky Conference openers... Senior Robert Palacios played four minutes in the first half Monday night after having not played since the second half of the Bears game against San Diego State on Dec. 3... Boyle used his ninth different lineup Monday night (Pena, Beitzel, Figures, Kingman, Banks)... Beitzel joined Kirk Archibeque (twice) and Erik Olson as the only Northern Colorado Division I players to score 30 points in a game.