December 31, 2010

Lloyd's last-second stuff gives Bears 2-0 Big Sky road start

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CHENEY, Wash. -- Sophomore Elliott Lloyd blocked Eastern Washington's Glen Dean with one second remaining Friday to help Northern Colorado escape Reese Court with a 75-73 victory on New Year's Eve.

The win was the Bears' third straight against the Eagles and, paired with their victory Wednesday night at Portland State, gives them just the third road sweep against the Vikings and the Eagles authored by any Big Sky team over the last three seasons.

Devon Beitzel scored at least 20 points for the fifth straight game (23), Taylor Montgomery added 15 points and 11 rebounds, and Neal Kingman scored 13 for Northern Colorado (6-7, 2-0 Big Sky), which led 71-63 with 4:26 to play before holding on and starting 2-0 in the Big Sky for the first time.

Beitzel scored the last of his points with 59 seconds to go but was called for a five-second violation with 11 seconds remaining, giving the Eagles (4-9, 1-1) a final chance to call timeout and set up a potential winning or tying play.

Glen Dean, last year's Big Sky Conference Freshman of the Year, got a decent look at the rim on a drive on the play, but Lloyd got a hand on the attempt and then grabbed the rebound as the buzzer sounded.

The win evened Northern Colorado's all-time mark against the Eagles to 5-5 and was the Bears' second straight victory in Cheney and their fifth in six meetings.

"(Lloyd's) been telling me all year that he's been wanting to take over Yahosh (Bonner's) job of being our defensive stopper," Northern Colorado coach B.J. Hill said. "He's been doing it in spots, but the growth that he's exhibited on that end and the want-to that he's exhibited on that end is really impressive just over the last three weeks since we've come back from Christmas and right before Christmas.

"I couldn't be happier for him to make that play."

Eastern Washington entered as one of the league's better rebounding teams, but the Bears didn't notice, winning the battle of the boards 35-27 and hitting 17 of 18 free throws in the second half to secure a key road victory.

Montgomery's work on the boards (seven defensive, four offensive) was particularly impressive as he notched his second double-double of the season and just the third of his career.

"I really thought we could hurt them inside," Hill said. "They are really good perimeter-wise defensively, but I thought we could hurt them inside. Whether it was Taylor or Mike or Neal or (Emmanuel) or whoever, and Taylor took on that challenge.

"The 11 rebounds are what had to do as much as anything with us winning this game."

Northern Colorado led by as many as eight in the first half, but the Eagles' strong three-point shooting kept them in the game. At one point, they hit deep, hands-in-their face 3-pointers on three straight possessions to take a 25-24 lead 7:54 before halftime.

Northern Colorado hit 54 percent from the field before halftime but still trailed by a point at the break, 42-41. Eastern made 8-of-13 three-pointers in the first half.

The Bears had a one-point lead and possession of the ball with 39 seconds left before halftime when freshman Paul Garnica put too much zip on an interior pass to Emmanuel Addo with fewer than 10 seconds to go, and the Eagles came down and scored on a tipped-in missed 3-pointer as the halftime buzzer sounded.

Beitzel, who scored a "quiet" 26 in UNC's win at Portland State on Wednesday night, scored 16 in the first half tonight before sitting down with 2:30 to play after picking up a second foul.

Beitzel mouthed to Hill that he was "OK" to keep playing with the two infractions, but Hill didn't risk it and inserted Garnica.

His options off the bench, though -- the Garnicas, the Unruhs, the Addos -- were more than viable options to cover when Beitzel had to sit or when others drew the ire of the officials and their whistles.

"That's that depth" Hill said. "Tate Unruh and Mike Proctor have been unavailable for basically the semester -- Mike the last five games before these two wins. That's 31 minutes of quality playing time. That's 31 minutes out of 200. That's what we were missing. It's hard to piece stuff together when you have limited bullets in your gun going into a game.

"I'm just so proud of this team. The way they've regrouped, the way they've taken on these challenges, and I can't tell you enough how proud I am of them."

And so now the Bears will take a day off to travel back to Greeley and then get back to work in preparation for key home games Thursday and Saturday against Montana and Montana State.

The Bears made some history to end 2010, but they've still got a lot of work to do once the calendar turns to 2011.

"We've got a special group," Hill said. "These seniors have done an unbelievable feat in building this program, and they deserve every piece of the credit. Chris Kaba, Neal Kingman, Taylor Montgomery and Devon Beitzel have been through the thick and thin. From four wins to 25 last year to whatever we do this year. These guys have seen it all.

I tell the team every time we go out, 'Let's go win another one for these four guys, because they deserve it.' And they do."