Bears even conference mark against struggling Hornets
BOX SCORE: vs. Sacramento
GREELEY, Colo. -- Northern Colorado's men's basketball team took care of business and got back on track Tuesday night with a 91-73 victory against Sacramento State at Butler-Hancock Sports Pavilion.
The Bears have home games looming this week against Big Sky Conference-heavyweights Eastern Washington and Portland State, so getting past a struggling Sacramento State squad was of the utmost importance.
Junior transfers John Pena (22 points) and Yahosh Bonner (11) both set career highs, and sophomore Taylor Montgomery tied his career water mark with 14 points, and junior Will Figures poured in a season-high 22 for Northern Colorado (6-11, 2-2 Big Sky) in the win.
And if not for Hornets senior Loren Leath, who scorched the nets for a conference-season-high tying 41 points, the final score would have been much more in the Bears' favor.
Northern Colorado was clearly the dominant force in the first half, but there it was, up only 10 at the break. The Bears' pushed their lead back up to 28 points with just over eight-and-a-half minutes remaining in the game ... but Leath just wouldn't let the Bears extend the advantage.
"I'm not sure I've ever been as mad up 10 at the half as I was tonight," Northern Colorado coach Tad Boyle said. "But my expectations for this team are very high. I know what we're capable of, I know what these young men can do. We've just got to go out and show on a nightly basis."
Leath seemingly hit from everywhere on the court in this one and kept Sacramento State (1-17, 0-5) within respectable range of Northern Colorado, which authored runs of 17-1, 14-1 and 14-0 at various parts of the game.
"I don't worry about our offense," Boyle said. "We're a tough guard -- we've got three of the top six three-point-percentage shooters in the Big Sky Conference -- I don't worry about that area. I worry about our defense, but if we can get that in check, we can play with anybody in this league."
Boyle and his coaching staff have been waiting all season for a performance from Pena like the one they got Tuesday night. The junior transfer (Mesa Community College) has shown flashes at points this season, but he's never really taken control of Northern Colorado's offense like he did in this one.
On multiple occasions, it was Pena smacking his hands together, calling for the ball at the top of the key and responding with a splash-down bucket.
"I'm getting a little confidence back," Pena said. "It's all about confidence. Coach (B.J.) Hill and Coach Boyle have been on me lately, saying I haven't been myself. So I just tried to get my feel back tonight."
Pena's six field goals and five three-pointers and free throws all tied career marks, but, up to this point, he hadn't been as effective in all three categories in the same game.
It all came together Tuesday night -- for Pena and for the rest of the Bears, who will get back to work tomorrow in preparation for Thursday's game against the Eagles and Sunday's "Big Sky Game of the Week" against Portland State (Altitude).
"This is an important week for us," Boyle said. "We had to have this one tonight, so I'm glad we took care of business."
NOTES: Senior Jabril Banks did not play in the first half Tuesday night on a coach's decision... The Bears are now 4-2 at home and 2-9 away from Butler-Hancock... This is just the second game this year that two Bears have scored 20 or more points (Weber State).