Men's basketball shuts down Falcons, stays perfect through five
AIR FORCE ACADEMY -- Northern Colorado scored the first 12 points Saturday night against Air Force and didn't look back in cruising to a 70-46 win in the championship game of the Reggie Minton Classic.
Junior Devon Beitzel poured in a season-high 26 points against the Falcons, with 17 coming in the second half, to earn the tournament's Most Valuable Player honors and help the Bears turn a 33-21 intermission lead into a full-on blowout in the final 20 minutes inside Clune Arena.
The victory is incredibly Northern Colorado's first against Air Force since Feb. 16, 1957, and keeps the Bears perfect after five games (5-0) for the first time since 1984 and just the fifth time overall in their 108-year history.
Northern Colorado, which finished just 4-14 in road or neutral contests last season but is already 5-0 in such games this year, didn't allow the Falcons (2-1) a field goal until the 14:08 mark in the first half Saturday, and Air Force didn't connect on a single three-pointer (0-17) for the first time since 1991.
The Bears also had double-digit steals (13) for the third time in five games this year and won their second tournament in as many weeks (Rainbow Classic) and their fifth game in eight days.
The 46 points allowed by Northern Colorado is its fewest in a win since surrendering that many to Denver on Dec. 8, 2007, and to Arizona Bible College on Nov. 29, 1995.
"That was a completely different team than the one that played last night (against Texas Southern)," Northern Colorado coach Tad Boyle said. "We played hard, we played fast, and, for the most part, we played smart. It was like we were in quick sand last night. But in this game, we got after it on the defensive end, and that really translated into our offensive attack.
"This win is a huge deal for our program. We haven't defeated these guys since the 50s, and now we come out here tonight and control the game from the outset. I couldn't be prouder of our effort."
Both teams struggled shooting the ball -- the Bears finished at 41 percent (24-59), while Air Force came in at just 33 percent (14-43) -- but Northern Colorado's quickness and efficiency helped it overcome some of those struggles and win a game by 20-plus points for the third time already this season.
Senior Will Figures, who joined Beitzel on the all-tournament team, and senior Yahosh Bonner each had nine points in the win, and junior Taylor Montgomery added eight.
Sophomore Mike Proctor tied Air Force's Grant Parker with eight rebounds.
"Our success starts and stops with our defensive intensity and pressure," Boyle said. "We're going to have off-nights this season, and if you look at the final stats you could make a case that this was one of those nights. But if we stick to our principals and execute when the other team has the ball we're still going to have some success. We shoot just 41 percent tonight, and still win by 24? That doesn't happen too often."
The Falcons pulled to within eight, at 39-31, about four-and-half minutes into the second half Saturday, before Beitzel converted a conventional three-point play on a slick baseline move and then splashed home a three-pointer a couple possessions later to put Northern Colorado back up 45-31.
Another Beitzel three a couple minutes later and a Montgomery layup, off a perfect over-the-top entry pass from Kingman, on the Bears' next possession had them up 17 and in complete control.
Northern Colorado's largest lead of the second half was 29.
The Bears built their first-half lead on the defensive end, getting six steals in the first 20 minutes and forcing Air Force into eight first-half turnovers.
Boyle used his early lead to give his starters (Bonner, Figures, Beitzel, Proctor, Montgomery) some rest, sitting each for nearly five minutes. When he got them back out there, though, Northern Colorado still had a 19-11 lead, and that strategy seemed to pay off in the second half, when the Falcons appeared to wilt against the Bears' pressure.
"We're trying to build depth with this team," Boyle said, "so that's what we were doing there a little bit. We're not going to go 11 or 12 deep every night, but we saw that as an opportunity early on there to get some guys some minutes, to keep our frontline guys fresh and to get them some experience they're going to need down the road."
NOTES: Air Force came into the game winners of 77 of its previous 93 home games ... Beitzel's MVP award is the Bears second in two weeks, as Bonner was tabbed the top player at last week's Outrigger Hotels Rainbow Classic ... Northern Colorado, the only remaining undefeated team in the Big Sky Conference, previously started a season 5-0 during the 1930-31, 1963-64, 1965-66 and 1984-85 seasons.
2009 REGGIE MINTON AIR FORCE CLASSIC ALL-CLASSIC TEAM
- Evan Washington, Air Force
- Sammy Schaefer, Air Force
- Nate Lebsock, Dickinson State
- Devon Beitzel, Northern Colorado - MVP
- Will Figures, Northern Colorado
- Travele Jones, Texas Southern