December 1, 2009

Men's basketball takes it to the Rams, stays perfect through seven

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GREELEY, Colo. -- This is why Northern Colorado moved up to Division I.

Will Figures came off the bench Tuesday night for the first time this season and shot perfectly from the free-throw line and from three-point range to score 18 points and lead the Bears to a 70-63 victory against instate-rival Colorado State.

Junior Taylor Montgomery contributed a career-high 16 points and season-high seven rebounds to push Northern Colorado to 7-0 for the first time since 1964.

The Bears, who never trailed in the game and shot out to an 11-1 lead in the first four minutes, didn't allow the Rams (4-3) to connect from the field until the 12:38 mark in the first half. That turned Northern Colorado's much-anticipated home opener into an all-out party for the standing-room-only crowd of 3,192 in attendance inside a suddenly hip Butler-Hancock Sports Pavilion.

“This tonight is what college basketball is all about,” Northern Colorado coach Tad Boyle said. “This is the reason we went Division I, and this is the reason we could have the best home court in the Big Sky.”

The Bears will start Big Sky Conference play on Friday night against Montana State with a chance to move to 8-0 on a season for the first time in their 108-year history (1901).

Not bad for a program that just a few years ago was still learning what this NCAA Division I business was all about.

If nothing else, the atmosphere Tuesday night spoke volumes about what the future holds for Northern Colorado basketball. For Boyle, this is just the beginning. He said as much in a postgame "thank you" over the PA system amidst a sea of blue-and-gold clad fans, who had stormed the court in celebration. 

"We've got a chance to have some fun this year," Boyle screamed. "But we need all of you (the fans) to keep coming back and keep giving us the kind of support you gave tonight. I love seeing all these seats filled. Great job to all the students and fans for filling this place up and cheering us on."

Said Beitzel: “When we first entered the gym, I had chills. I have never played in front of a crowd like this at home. It was awesome and I really hope it will continue.”

Northern Colorado didn't score a field goal in the final 4:32 Tuesday, but its 10-of-12 free-throw shooting in the final five minutes -- similar to its line work against North Dakota last Friday -- proved the difference and kept it perfect on the young season.

The Bears, who led just 60-58 with 3:22 remaining before putting down the clamps defensively and securing another victory, shot just 41 percent from the field but never really seemed in danger of losing the contest.

Junior Devon Beitzel added 12 points and five assists in the win, and sophomore Mike Proctor and junior Chris Kaba added eight points apiece. Redshirt-freshman Elliott Lloyd and senior Yahosh Bonner chipped in four.

Figures, who didn't start the game after dinging his shoulder in practice earlier in the week, hit all eight of his free throws and both of his three-point tries as Northern Colorado evened its all-time mark with Colorado State in Greeley (25-25).

"Will Figures and Devon Beitzel were both a couple guys who were still available when we took this job (in early May 2006)," Boyle said, "and they weren't getting a whole lot of Division I talent when we came calling. But they were great fits for what we were trying to build and what we're doing now.

"I'm so proud of the kind of effort they put forth every day in practice and the kind of performances they put out there tonight. Those are almost becoming commonplace for them, and that's saying something."

NOTES: Bonner started the night off right with a perfect rendition of The Star Spangled Banner ... Northern Colorado has either led or been tied at the half in all eight of its games this season ... The Bears started 7-0 during the 1930-31 and 1963-64 seasons ... Northern Colorado's previous high for Division I attendance was in 2007, when 2,759 saw its game against these same Rams ... Terry Anderson, a Bears' assistant coach, played eight minutes in that game and scored two points ... Northern Colorado is now 37-65 all-time against Colorado State.