March 22, 2010

Men's basketball misses the mark in season-ending CIT loss

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GREELEY, Colo. -- Northern Colorado men’s basketball saw firsthand Monday night just how mad March basketball can truly be.

The Bears put together arguably the best season in school history this year and entered their CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament quarterfinal home game Monday against Pacific about as close to unbeatable at home as a team can be.

But in March, when your next loss is your last loss, none of what you’ve done really matters. What you do is all that’s important, and you’ve got to make shots to keep on playing.

Northern Colorado couldn’t do that against the Tigers, and it cost them in a 63-59 season-ending defeat in front of one of the rowdiest crowds Butler-Hancock Sports Pavilion has seen this year.

The Bears were one of the country’s best shooting teams this season, but that left them when they needed it most Monday. Northern Colorado hit just 18-of-53 attempts from the floor against Pacific (34 percent, their second-lowest mark of the season) and made just one of 11 three-point attempts in the second half to see its season come to a cruel and abrupt end with a school record 25-8 record.

Senior Will Figures, the Bears’ absolute rock this season and one of the best to ever play at Northern Colorado, finished 1-of-11 from the field and scored just four points.

It was that kind of night for Tad Boyle’s program.

“We obviously wanted to play a lot better and keep our season going for as long as possible,” Northern Colorado coach Tad Boyle said. “We just struggled offensively tonight, and this is a bad time of year to run into that kind of problem. Pacific is a good team with a good coach, but when you finish with the kinds of numbers we had, it’s really hard to come out on top.

“I feel bad for our seniors (Figures, Yahosh Bonner and Ben Jenkins), but those are the only guys I truly feel sorry for on this team. We’ve accomplished some great things this year and set the bar really high for our program. Next season starts now for everyone else in that locker room.”

Chris Kaba led all scorers with 17 points and nine rebounds for the Bears, while Mike Proctor tallied 11 points, and Taylor Montgomery finished with 10 and nine rebounds.

Terrell Smith scored 15 points and grabbed eight rebounds to lead Pacific (22-11), and Demetrece Young added 10 points for the Tigers, which will now travel to Appalachian State for the CIT Semifinals on Wednesday night, March 24.

“This really hurts, and it’s probably going to for a long time,” said Figures, who finished with his lowest offensive output since scoring two points in a road loss last January at Texas State. “This is definitely now how I saw my season coming to an end. This is going to sit with me for awhile. I’m proud of what this program has gone through since I first got here, and that’s what makes this hurt that much more.”

Northern Colorado shot just 29 percent in the second half (9-31) and hit just one of 11 3-pointers to score a season second-half low 28 points. Still, the Bears were in the game until the end, thanks to a defensive effort that limited Pacific to 26 second-half points and a crowd enthused by the prospect of hometown postseason basketball.

“That’s a definite testament to our will and our toughness,” Boyle said. “You make just nine of 31 in a half of college basketball, you aren’t going to be a part of many games. But we really got after it on the defensive end of the floor and did just about everything we could do to win a ballgame where the shots weren’t falling.

“We’ve been a good offensive team since I got here (four years ago), but our defense took a step up this season, and that continued tonight. You have to score, though, and make plays to win at this time of the season.”

Northern Colorado, down by as much as 10 in the first half, trailed just 60-57 with 1:16 to go. Kaba missed a potential tying 3-pointer with 39 seconds remaining; Smith hit a free throw to put the Tigers up four, 61-57; and the Bears missed four straight shots on two possessions over the next 20 seconds to lose at home for just the second time this season (13-2).

Pacific missed five free throws in the final two minutes and made just 14 of 29 in the second half, but the Bears just couldn’t capitalize.

“They tried to let us in it there at the end,” Boyle said. “This crowd was amazing tonight, and I give them a lot of credit for our renewed sense of urgency in the second half. Pacific was good from the line in the first half (5-8), but struggled a bit in the second half (9-21) shooting into the students. That was great to see. I just wish we could have sent them home with a winner. The best is yet to come for us. This was just the beginning.”

QUICK NOTES: Northern Colorado finishes with 25 wins, the most in school history … The Bears finish 13-2 at home this season, which is their second-highest home win total in school history (1988-89, 1965-66) … Northern Colorado falls to 10-7 this season when being outrebounded … The Bears fall to 2-1 when scoring fewer than 60 points … Northern Colorado falls to 19-3 when allowing fewer than 70 points … Northern Colorado falls to 2-5 this year when behind at the half and 3-15 over the last two seasons … Tad Boyle comes just a game short of matching the highest win total (26) in his 16-year head coaching career (26, Wichita State, 2005-06) … The Bears fall to 9-26 all-time in the postseason … Senior Will Figures finishes with 1,287 career points, which ranks him seventh on the school’s all-time scoring list … And he set school Division I records this year in points in a game (33 at Weber State), points in a season (549), free throws attempted (173) and minutes played in a season (1,058).