January 28, 2010

Bears' flat first half costly in first home loss in nearly a year

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GREELEY, Colo. -- Northern Colorado men's basketball shot a season-worst 29 percent in the first half Thursday night and paid for it in the end in a numbing 64-62 loss to Montana inside Butler-Hancock Sports Pavilion.

The Bears (17-5, 6-3 Big Sky) finished the game at just 33 percent from the field and saw their home winning streak snapped at 12 games, two short of the school record. 

Northern Colorado turned the Grizzlies (14-7, 5-4) over 19 times in the game and came all the way back from a 13-point first-half deficit to take a six point lead in the second half, but Montana got some strong three-point shooting from Ryan Staudacher (5-of-7) and a game-high 19 points from Anthony Johnson to escape with a victory.

Devon Beitzel had 15 points and led four players in double figures for Northern Colorado (No. 10 Mid-Major Top 25), including Will Figures, who finished with 12. Figures had a chance to be the hero in the final seconds for the Bears, but his three-point attempt hit iron as the clock expired.

“They went for a steal on the inbounds, and that led me to get a pretty clean shot," Figures said. "I thought it was going in. Neal (Kingman) was right behind me, and he said he thought it was going in, too. That was probably the best look we could possibly get."

Northern Colorado played inspired basketball in the second half -- including multiple dunks, players diving on the floor for loose balls, precision passing -- but the hole it found itself heading into intermission and its free-throw shooting in the second half were the difference.

The Bears were outrebounded (37-29) for the 12th time this season, and that deficit was rooted entirely in the first half, when Montana grabbed 21 boards to Northern Colorado's 12. The Bears also missed eight freebies in the second 20 minutes and finished at or under 70 percent at the line in a game for the third straight game.

"We battled in the second half," Northern Colorado coach Tad Boyle said. "We competed in the second half. The first half is where we lost this basketball game. I told the guys in the locker room that the kind of effort we gave before halftime tonight is completely unacceptable. We had a great crowd out there tonight that was full of energy, and I think maybe some of the guys are taking it for granted. The teams down the stretch that make plays win the game. They made the plays and we didn’t."

Staudacher’s fast-break 3-pointer at 2:47 in the first half gave the Griz a 31-18, but Beitzel’s jumper about 20 seconds later and a 3-pointer of his own with 34 seconds left closed the gap to eight, 31-23, by halftime.

While the shooting did not get much better for the Bears during the second half, early fouls and missed shots by Montana allowed Northern Colorado to come back, cutting the lead to a point several times before finally regaining the lead for the first time since the first minute of the game on an off-balance jumper from Kingman with 7:51 to play.

Two key dunks by junior forward Taylor Montgomery, a 3-pointer by redshirt freshman Elliot Lloyd and a block by sophomore guard Mike Proctor ratched the 2,892 in attendance up a notch or two and led to UNC’s largest lead of the game at six, 55-49, with 5:46 to play.

Staudacher never let Northern Colorado get too far ahead, though, hitting all four of his second half three-point attempts.

“We have been a second half team all year,” said Kingman, who finished with 10 points to notch his fourth-straight double-digit game, a first-time feat in his Northern Colorao career. We have to quit digging holes in the first half like we have been doing."

Said Figures: "We are going to learn from this loss. I know it changed me right away. We have a big game coming up Sunday (Montana State, 2:06 p.m.) that is huge. We can still do what we want to do. We just got to make sure we win our games.

QUICK NOTES: Northern Colorado loses for first time at home during the 2009-10 season … The Bears home winning streak ends at 12, two short of the school record … Northern Colorado’s last home loss was to Weber State on Feb. 5, 2009 … Senior Will Figures had a look at open three as the buzzer sounded, but it bounced off the iron … Neal Kingman played another strong game, scoring 10 points to notch his fourth-straight double-digit game (a career-long stretch) … Northern Colorado’s 30 percent shooting in the first half was a season worst … And the Bears’ 33 percent for the game was also a season worst … Northern Colorado was outrebounded (37-29) for the 12th time this season.