Bears, Kingman erupt in second half to bring down Eastern Washington
CHENEY, Wash. -- Whatever Northern Colorado coach Tad Boyle said to his team at halftime must have worked for the Bears (No. 12 Mid-Major Top 25) on Saturday night at Eastern Washington.
Boyle's team was down by as many as 15 points in the first half in this one before storming out of the intermission and hitting some big shots in the final few minutes to edge the Eagles 74-71 on Reese Court.
Northern Colorado senior Will Figures led all scorers with 21 points in the comeback victory, and junior Neal Kingman played arguably the best game of his collegiate career with a career-high 20 points on 7-of-12 shooting.
Junior Devon Beitzel added 12 points and five assists for the Bears (16-4, 5-2 Big Sky), who were able to bounce back from an uncharacteristicly flat performance Friday night against Portland State and improve to 3-5 all-time against Eastern Washington (6-13, 2-4) and earn their first win ever in Cheney.
Mark Dunn scored 16 points for the Eagles, while Jeffrey Forbes and Glen Dean added 14 and 11 points, respectively.
"I told our team in the locker room after the game that we got our identity back (in the second half)," Boyle said. "That's the Northern Colorado basketball team we all know and love. We didn't see that the first 60 minutes on this road trip.
"We just guarded, we got out in transition, we executed. Basketball is not rocket science, and we got stops and we rebounded on one end and we executed on the other end, and you can make runs when you do that."
The Bears looked for all the world in the first half Saturday night like a team coming off a thorough beating last night at Portland State. They also looked like a team that flew into nearby Spokane, Wash., early this morning and left some of its energy behind in the overhead bins.
Northern Colorado found itself down 39-24 with 1:57 remaining to play in the first half before closing that gap to 10, 39-29, by halftime.
The Bears then opened the second half on a 10-0 run, thanks to a defensive effort that kept Eastern Washington off the scoreboard until Dean hit a three-pointer at 15:07 to put the Eagles up 42-39.
"I was really, really proud of our team's effort in the second half," Boyle said. "The first four minutes of the second half was the story, and then it was a dogfight. It was just a great win tonight. I told them in the locker room that we're getting everybody's best shot, and we've got to handle it, and we've got to take it. We've got to be the aggressor and we can't play back on our heels. We played a little on our heels this weekend, but we got it back in the second half when it counted."
A Kingman three-pointer at 12:59 gave the Bears their first lead, at 46-44, and after trading leads with Eastern Washington for much of the next nine minutes, sophomore forward Mike Proctor hit a layup with 3:32 remaining to put NC up 67-66 and give them an advantage they would never lose.
"Neal Kingman had the best game of his career," Boyle said. "The second half was terrific -- he was aggressive and he was playing confident, and we really needed those minutes tonight. I can't say enough about Neal tonight. He was terrific. I'm really proud of him. Our bench has been good all year -- some nights it's been Elliott Lloyd, some nights it's been Chris Kaba, some night's it's been Neal -- and tonight it was Neal's night. He was really big for us when we really needed it."
Figures hit a driving layup with 21.1 seconds left to put the Bears up 73-71, and after an Eastern Washington miss and foul, Figures added a free throw with 2.7 seconds left.
Eastern Washington had a chance to tie the game, but Forbes' half-court heave hit the front rim.
Now, Northern Colorado will take nearly a week off before hosting Sacramento State next Friday night, Jan. 22, in Butler-Hancock Sports Pavilion. That game will be the first of four straight at home for the Bears, spread out over the next three weeks.
Northern Colorado has a great opportunity in front of it to get healthy and add some more wins to its already historic season.
"We need that (little bit of a break)," Boyle said. "We need to get some good quality practices, and we need to get rested up and get the nicks and the bumps healed up.
"The teams that win games in January and February are the teams that execute on the offensive end, and they defend and rebound on the other end. If we do that, we're going to be fine. If we don't, we're going to have some more Portland State nights."