LAS VEGAS -- Northern Colorado basketball took a big lead early again on Saturday against Bethune-Cookman but this time didn't let up in a 69-45 victory in the final round of the Las Vegas Invitational.
The Bears led just 31-25 at the half -- after being ahead by as many as 15 -- but seniors Neal Kingman, Devon Beitzel and Chris Kaba went on a 13-point run to start the second half to turn that momentum in a hurry.
Kingman hit a 3-pointer right out of the gate to get the Bears going again, Kaba banged home a three on NC's next possession, Beitzel added a fast-break layup and then hit a three, and then Kingman put home a couple free throws.
When the dust cleared on that three-man, three-minute spurt, Northern Colorado (3-3) led 44-25 and never looked back against the Wildcats (2-4).
Beitzel, who was named to the 2010 iBN Sports Las Vegas Invitational All-Tournament team, hit six of eight shots for a team-high 17 points, with 15 coming in the second half.
He hit all four of his free throws Saturday after hitting all nine attempts Friday. He's now 29 of 30 from the line in four games inside the Orleans, dating to 2008, when he set the school record for free throws made in a single game (15) against Southern.
Kingman added 16 points and six rebounds, and Kaba had nine and a season-high tying eight boards for the Bears, who rebounded from a frustrating Friday loss to Valparaiso by limiting Bethune-Cookman to just 30 percent shooting and 18 percent from beyond the arc (3-17).
The Wildcats hit just six field goals after halftime.
"There's no doubt that (our defensive play) was an improvement today over yesterday," Bears head coach B.J. Hill said. "I think we went from about 15 minutes yesterday to about 30 today. Again, we had a little bit of a lull, at about the eight-minute mark in the first half, where we got away from what we wanted to do offensively, but our defense kept us going and enabled us to get this win."
Kingman and Lloyd scored six early points, helping the Bears to a 21-11 lead about nine minutes in. Northern Colorado was also buoyed out of the gate with a 10-2 rebounding edge at the second media break, and it finished the game ahead 40-23 on the boards.
Hill said he was especially pleased with Kingman's performance -- not just Saturday but on this whole road trip.
"Devon was named to the all-tournament team," Hill said, "but Neal got my vote. He's been great. He's playing with confidence -- he's turned it over a little more than I want -- but he's playing with confidence and trying to make plays, so I can deal with a few turnovers. He's always in the game mentally and tries to get his teammates, who might not be in the game, up to his level. He's been a second coach out there for me, and that's been huge."
Montgomery's free throw at 8:08 put the Bears ahead 28-13, and they looked like they were going to roll into the break with a sizeable lead. Northern Colorado had hit 10 of 14 shots from the field at that point and four of five 3-pointers.
Things were looking good.
Northern Colorado only scored three more points the rest of the way, though -- a Kingman 3-pointer at 4:01 -- and the Wildcats got back into the game.
Bethune-Cookman scored nine straight between Montgomery's free throw and Kingman's three and then scored three more unanswered to end the half to pull within six at 31-25.
Kingman, Beitzel and Kaba didn't let it get any closer.