December 28, 2009

State champs? Men's basketball stakes its claim with double-digit DU win

Final stats | Play-by-play | NC season stats | Tad Boyle KFKA postgame | Bears move to No. 19 | DU recap

GREELEY, Colo. -- It's unofficial, to be sure, but Northern Colorado men's basketball staked a claim Monday night as the best college basketball team in the Rocky Mountain state.

Junior Devon Beitzel scored a game-high 19 points, and sophomore Mike Proctor notched the Bears' first double-digit rebounding performance this season with 10 as Northern Colorado returned from its biggest break of the season with a 72-57 victory against instate-rival Denver inside a sold-out Butler-Hancock Sports Pavilion.

Northern Colorado (11-3, 1-1 Big Sky), previous winners against Air Force in late November and earlier this month against Colorado State, winners against Colorado, has now won nine straight home games and two straight against the Pioneers (9-4, 2-0 Sun Belt).

"I've got a lot of respect for Joe Scott and DU and the program they have," Northern Colorado coach Tad Boyle said. "To beat a team like that makes you feel good as a coach. When you beat the teams you think you should beat it doesn't make you feel as good. But I've got a lot of respect for them and their players.

"And what about the crowd? Without the students here and this place was almost full ... I think there is an excitement building around this team and this community, and I think it can be really special. If they keep coming out like they did, this can be the best home court in the Big Sky."

Will Figures added 15 points for the Bears, who held Denver to a season-best 24 second-half points and are now off to their best start to a season since beginning 17-2 during the 1966-67 season. Proctor's performance helped NC win the rebounding battle, 39-21, and the Bears also snagged 16 offensive boards to DU's three.

"As I was driving to the game tonight," Boyle said, "I thought if Mike Proctor plays well, I thought we could probably win the game. He's kind of an 'X' factor for us, and I love his energy.

"I just really like the toughness of our team. We showed it against San Jose State,and we showed it again tonight. I tell our guys all the time that if we play hard, we play smart, we play together, whatever the result is we can live with.

Andrew Hooper led Denver with 14 points, and Brian Stafford had 11 for the Pioneers, who had their three-game winning streak snapped and saw head coach Joe Scott receive two technicals and earn an early exit at the 6:06 mark.

Scott's first infraction came right as the first half ended, when he thought Yahosh Bonner carried the ball before draining a buzzer-beating three.

He then got to finish the game in the locker room after he complained about a no-call on a potential Mike Proctor goaltending penalty right in front of his bench.

"The good thing, the impressive thing, about our team is that we've had so much of our success this year away from home, where you don't always get all the calls," Boyle said. "So, I think none of that stuff rattled any of us. In fact, it kind of lit a fire under us as well."

The Bears, who entered the game with the 18th most three-pointers in the country this season, finished Monday by making seven-of-16 three-point attempts and hitting 47 percent of their shots from the field (26-57).

Denver came into the game ranked second in the country with a 53 percent shooting mark in the second half, but the Bears held the Pioneers to 40 percent shooting in the second half and 48 percent for the game.

"We really executed and we made some shots," Boyle said. "I just thought our defense was pretty darn good all night. We gave them some layups (off their Princeton Offense)-- I think they had 10 layups in the first half and missed ... four of them -- but I thought our guys were dialed in.

"We beat a good basketball team tonight. DU is going to win a lot of games. I think they can win their league, and I've just got a lot of respect for them. It's a great win for our guys."