January 11, 2014

Bears stay unbeaten in Big Sky after close call against Bengals

Collin Boyles

GREELEY – The Northern Colorado men's basketball team knew Saturday night that Idaho State was bringing in a potent offense, ranking third in the Big Sky coming into the weekend. The first ranked offense of the Bears (10-3, 4-0 Big Sky) was able earn an 82-75 win against the Bengals (5-8, 2-2 Big Sky) for the ninth straight at home this season.

The 1,453 fans in Butler-Hancock were active early to help slow down the Bengals' offense. Junior forward Tim Huskisson (Willard, Mo.), making his fifth start of the season, recorded a career-high 18 points, in the first half. For the game he set his career mark at 22 in the Bears' scoring attack. Senior guard Tate Unruh (Branson, Mo.) also added 21, shooting 5-of-9 from 3-pt.

"It was a win, (but) I thought there was an emotional letdown in the last 48 hours after beating Weber (State)," Head Coach B.J. Hill said. "We couldn't guard them. Our defense left us tonight and that's what I'm concerned about."

UNC was able to grab a 6-2 lead early, although ISU later used a 7-0 run to take back an 18-13 lead. Senior guard Tate Unruh (Branson, Mo.) ended the scoring drought for the Bears with one of his three 3-pt FGs of the night. The score started a 13-5 run for the Bears who took its first lead of the game, 28-26, since 14 minutes left in the first.

The scoring continued in the Bears' favor throughout the latter half of the first period. Huskisson highlighted a 19-6 run over four minutes with 11 of his 22 points, including three 3-pt FGs, to give his team a 37-31 lead with just under four minutes in the first half. Both teams traded scores over the final four minutes of the half to go into the halftime, 44-37 UNC.

The Bears opened the second half with possession, but a quick turnover led to a Bengals score early. UNC scored seven of the next nine points to grab the first double-digit lead of the night, 51-41. The teams again would trade scores until 11:32 in the second. The Bengals then used an 11-1 run to take its first lead of the night, 59-58, since 7:31 in the first. After allowing just five points off of turnovers in the first half, the Bears allowed six off four turnovers during the 11-1 run.

UNC failed to make a FG from the 12 minute mark until six minutes, converting free throws for its only points. The free throws were part of seven lead changes in the game after the eight minute mark. UNC was able to grab a three-point lead following an Unruh rebound and foul, when junior forward Dominique Lee grabbed the offensive rebound from the free throw and converting the put back shot.

Unruh showed up big in the late minutes while giving the Bears a two-possession lead, 69-65, with his fourth 3-pt FG of the night and following with a converted and-one fast break opportunity off a steal. After a lead of six points with just under two minutes remaining, the Bengals pulled to within three off a Tomas Sanchez 3. Late 3-pt shots from ISU didn't fall, leading to free throws and an 82-75 win.

"I know you guys were talking about the shots (Tate) hit but he was not that good defensively," Hill said. "He made up for it on the other end, and that's what he does. We can't go through stretches like that. We can't expect to give up 56% (shooting) and win games."

Northern Colorado shot 25-of-50 (50%) for the night although Idaho State shot better, 27-of-48 (56.3%). UNC hit 7-of-17 3-pt FGs to extend a streak of four games with at least five. After trailing in the first half in rebounds, the Bears outrebounded the Bengals 14-8 in the second to win the night total, 29-25.

Huskisson led the Bears in points with 22 while Unruh followed with 21. Lee and senior forward Derrick Barden (Detroit, Mich.) also scored in double-digits with 12 and 11, respectively. Barden pulled down a game-high nine rebounds in the win. The Bengals Andre Hatchett led the game in points with 25 while Sanchez followed with 21.

Northern Colorado is now the lone undefeated team in Big Sky play after Montana State fell Saturday night to Eastern Washington. The Bears hit the road for the first time in conference action next week as it heads to Montana to face Montana and Montana State.