Bears start a new streak with 'Game of the Week' win
GREELEY, Colo. -- The last two times Northern Colorado and Montana State met on the men's basketball hardwood, both games were over well before the final buzzer. Both contests were yawners, with both home teams earning blowout victories.
Sunday's meeting inside Butler-Hancock Sports Pavilion was nothing like that.
The Bears (No. 10 Mid-Major Top 25) got a game-high 20 points from senior Will Figures and 14 points and 10 rebounds from junior Neal Kingman to keep the Bobcats at bay in a 74-68 victory in the 47th meeting between the two schools.
Montana State (11-10, 6-4 Big Sky) held a 52-48 lead with 8:02 remaining before Northern Colorado (18-5, 7-3) authored a 15-2 run over the next six minutes to build a 63-54 lead, finished off by a Mike Proctor slam, and win at home for the ninth time this season.
The Bears, who poured in a season-high 29 free throws in the win, got 12 points from Proctor and 11 points apiece from juniors Devon Beitzel and Chris Kaba to earn their 18th win in a season for the first time since 1989 and avenge their worst loss of this season, an 87-63 setback in early December in Bozeman.
"I thought the play down the stretch by Will and Neal was the difference in this game and something we really needed after Thursday night's loss," Northern Colorado head coach Tad Boyle said. "Will played like a senior is supposed to play -- he made all the right decisions there toward the end -- and I'm really proud of Neal and the way he's been playing lately.
"I've been on Neal a lot about his rebounding. He's done it in stretches, but tonight he did it on both ends of the floor. Those are the kinds of numbers we need."
Kingman got the starting nod in this one after his strong play over much of the past month -- he came into the game having scored in double figures in four straight games, and he pushed that to five against Montana State -- and because of a leg injury suffered by junior Taylor Montgomery toward the tail end of Thursday night's 64-62 loss.
Kingman responded by contributing a career-high in minutes (37) and notching his first career double-double and the second this season by any Northern Colorado player.
"(Kingman) was kind of thrust into a role tonight that he's not used to," Boyle said. "He's not used to playing 37 minutes out there, but with some of the injuries we've had, that was something we really needed. And he did it, and I'm really proud of him."
The Bears moved into sole possession of second place in the Big Sky standings with the win, while Montana State fell into a tie for third with instate rival Montana.
The game was tied 34-34 at halftime, with Montana State smoking the nets at a 50 percent clip and Northern Colorado hitting just 38 percent of its shots from the field but all 12 of its attempts from the free-throw line.
The Bobcats did build a six-point lead in the second half, but their shooting fell off considerably (2-of-13 from three). Northern Colorado pushed its field-goal effort up to 44 percent in the second 20 minutes and hit 17 of 21 freebies.
"We're a good free-throw shooting team, and we got back to that tonight," Boyle said of his program that entered the week No. 7 in the nation in free throws attempted an No. 15 in the country in free-throw percentage. "We struggled a little Thursday against Montana, but we refocused and really gutted out a team victory. With the injuries we had before the game and the injuries and foul trouble we had to endure during the game, we really had some kids step up today. It was really good to see."
QUICK NOTES: Northern Colorado won its fourth game against Montana State in the teams' last five meetings ... The Bears earned back-to-back home victories against Montana State for the first time since 1952 ... Neal Kingman continued his hot stretch, scoring his first career double-double and Northern Colorado's second this season ... It was also Kingman's fifth straight double-digit game ... Neither Will Figures nor Devon Beitzel attempted a three-pointer, which was the first occurrence of that all season ... The two have combined for 95 made three-pointers this season ... The Bears' 29 free throws made was their highest this season, surpassing their 28 free-throw effort at home against Weber State ... This was Northern Colorado's second halftime tie (North Dakota) ... Kingman also set career high for minutes played (30) ... This was Figures' seventh 20-plus point performance this season, and he's led the Bears in scoring 13 times this season.