Bears lose touch at the line in home loss to Sacramento State
GREELEY -- Northern Colorado Basketball couldn't have picked a worse time to struggle from the free-throw line.
The Bears have been one of the nation's best charity-stripe benefactors over the last few seasons—they were ranked eighth in the country last season there—but they didn't resemble that program at all Thursday night in a 73-62 setback to Sacramento State at Butler-Hancock Sports Pavilion.
Northern Colorado (7-14, 4-6 Big Sky) made just 11 of 28 free-throws in the game and was never able to catch the Hornets (7-14, 2-8), who shot out to a 24-8 lead early on and never looked back.
"I don't know what motivates our guys right now," Northern Colorado coach B.J. Hill said. "Because this was a game we had to have, and we were at home—hadn't been home in awhile—and [we] just didn't have it."
Redshirt-freshman Tevin Svihovec led all the Bears with 19 points to finish with double-figure scoring for the 11th straight game, and sophomore Connor Osborne added 11 points and Tate Unruh pitched in with nine.
Sacramento State got 16 points from Dylan Garrity and 14 from Joe Eberhard and knocked off Northern Colorado for the first time since 2008 and for just the second time ever in Greeley.
The Bears pulled within striking distance at nine points a few times in the second half and got to within eight, at 66-58, with 36 seconds to play.
But their 14-point halftime hole proved too much to dig out of.
"[Our players] just don't understand yet what conference basketball is all about and the intensity it takes," Hill said. "I don't know how many games we've played in how many days in the last two weeks, but—it's an excuse but it's not—I can see the wear on them over the last 10 days.
"The schedule they've played has been tough on them: a double-overtime game, overtime game, flying back here. It's been tough. I don't want it to be an excuse, but when you've got one senior on a team, two sophomores who haven't played very much at all … I just don't know what the deal is with why we come out flat, especially at home. There's no excuse for that."
Even with the slow start, though, and even with the Hornets playing a terrific game on the road, the Bears had their chances to avoid a seventh loss at home this season by just putting a few more unguarded freebies into the bottom of the net.
Northern Colorado shot 39.3 percent from the line Thursday, which was the lowest mark by a Bears' men's hoops team since it shot 28.6 percent in a 65-55 loss to Stephen F. Austin in November 2004.
But even that night saw Northern Colorado finish 2-of-7 from the line.
"We shot [74.6] percent as a team in the first 10 games [this year]," Hill said, "So, why a team that shoots 75 percent over a stretch of 10 games shoots just  percent [in Big Sky play] … I don' t know. I think it's a lack of mental toughness. That's the only thing I can attribute it to. From playing the game and coaching the game as long as I have, when you do something very well and then you don't do it well, it's a lack of consistency, and a lack of consistency gets equated back to not being mentally tough, in my opinion."