February 3, 2011

Beitzel wrecks Eastern Washington's upset bid

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Box score | Play-by-play | NC season stats | In-game blog | B.J. Hill KFKA interview | Devon Beitzel KFKA interview

GREELEY -- Where would Northern Colorado basketball be this season without senior guard Devon Beitzel?

It almost found out Thursday in a come-from-behind 63-53 Big Sky Conference home victory against Eastern Washington at Butler-Hancock Sports Pavilion.

About seven hours before the game Beitzel was involved in a serious car wreck in Greeley that landed six stitches on top of his head and brought into doubt whether or not he'd be able to suit up against the Eagles.

To hear him tell it, though, there was little discussion on the matter.

"I missed seven games last year," he said, "and it killed me to be out. I didn't want an issue like that again. I know I'm a big part of this team, and I knew I needed to be out there tonight to help us get a win after that last road trip."

Well, he was out there, and he scored 19 points in the second half and a game-high 27 overall to lead Northern Colorado (12-9, 8-2 Big Sky) past the Eagles (7-15, 4-6) for the fourth straight time.

Redshirt-freshman Emmanuel Addo, in his first career start, added eight points for the Bears, freshman Paul Garnica had seven points and five assists, and seniors Chris Kaba, Neal Kingman and Taylor Montgomery scored six points apiece as Northern Colorado improved to 8-0 at home this season and 21-2 over the last two years.

But it was Beitzel, who scored 13 straight points in one stretch in the second half that turned a 43-38 deficit with 8:38 to play into a 51-46 advantage at the 3:46 mark, who willed the Bears to victory.

And back into first place in the Big Sky Conference after league-leading Montana lost Thursday at Weber State.

"I've coached college basketball for 15 years," Northern Colorado coach B.J. Hill said, "and Devon is in the top three of the toughest kids I've ever been around. He holds himself to such a high standard in everything he does -- and not just on the basketball court -- and that's what sets him apart. I tell everyone who will listen every day how fortunate I feel to be able to coach a kid like that."

Northern Colorado, which played arguably its worst game of the season last Monday at Northern Arizona, looked sluggish out of the gate Thursday and found itself down eight at halftime after scoring a season-low 20 first-half points.

The Bears committed 12 turnovers in the first 20 minutes and shot just 23 percent from the field (five-of-12) and 10 percent from three (one-of-10).

"I told our guys in the locker room that, 'You just shot 23 percent from the field and 10 percent from three and you're only down eight, so relax,'" Hill said. "But, as we left the locker room I wrote 'Play Harder' on the board and circled it and told them that if they didn't go out and play with a sense of urgency this one was going to get away from us."

The Eagles pushed their lead to 12 at 39-27 about six minutes into the second half before the Bears finally made some headway and started to change the momentum and give the 1,556 in attendance something to cheer about.

Kaba hit a 3-pointer with 14:17 to go and then on UNC's next possession rebounded his own miss and made one of two free throws on a subsequent foul against him to pull Northern Colorado back into the game at 39-31.

Then Beitzel went to work, scoring 13 of Northern Colorado's next 18 points.

"He was in the hospital at 2 o'clock today and was at our shootaround at 2:30 and came in here and dropped 27," Hill said. "I mean, how tough is he?"