Men's basketball buried by buzzer-beater
PORTLAND, Ore. -- Northern Colorado's men's basketball team has done a good job the last two years of holding Portland State's Jeremiah Dominguez in check.
The reigning Big Sky Player of the Year had only scored in double digits one time in his previous three meetings with the Bears, and that stat held true Thursday night inside the Peter W. Stott Center on the Portland State University campus.
But Dominguez' last points Thursday night -- coming off an unbelievable three-pointer that fell through the net as the final buzzer sounded -- gave Portland State a 77-74 come-from-behind victory and left Northern Colorado and head coach Tad Boyle a wounded bunch.
The loss, paired with Idaho State's victory against Montana State on Thursday night, slid the Bears (12-16, 6-7 Big Sky) into a tie for fifth in the league standings with three regular-season games to go. The top six teams qualify for the postseason tournament.
"There's been some talk in our league of cutting down on the number of teams who qualify for the postseason tournament," Boyle said. "Now, I don't know if that's going to happen down the road or not, and I don't even know where we're going to end up in the league this year. But anyone who saw this game tonight, saw that we can give any team in this league a run on any given night.
"I'd love to have a chance to go again on a neutral court. Hopefully we will. And if we play like we did tonight, we're going to qualify for the tournament, and we're going to get some cracks at some of these teams who have picked us off here."
Of the Bears' seven Big Sky losses this season, four have come on shots similar to Dominguez' heartbreaker Thursday night.
Idaho State's Deividas Busma put in a tip-in at the buzzer in the Bengals' victory on New Year's Day.
Two days later, Weber State's Damian Lillard hit a three-pointer with six seconds left in regulation to push that game between the Wildcats and the Bears into overtime, which Weber State eventually won.
Then, on Jan. 31, Northern Arizona's Nick Larson hit a three-pointer after being fouled, and he made the ensuing free throw to tie the Lumberjacks' with the Bears before NAU went on to earn a dramatic win.
And then there was Dominguez' acrobatic shot here Thursday night for Portland State (18-9, 9-5). The Vikings senior finished the night just 2-9 from the field. All those attempts came from beyond the three-point stripe.
He was 1-1 on buzzer-beaters.
Northern Colorado held a 39-28 lead at the half, scoring almost as many points as it did in the entire game (43) the first time these teams met, a Sunday Big Sky "Game of the Week" in Greeley.
The Vikings came firing on all cylinders after intermission this game, though, missing just eight shots (16-24) in the second 20 minutes.
"They came out on fire," Boyle said. "We knew they were going to make a run. They are too good and too talented a team not to. But they sustained that run, shooting 67 percent in the second half.
"It's the story of our year, going back to games we played in December and up until now. We held (the Vikings) to 39 percent shooting in the first half tonight, but in that second half, they caught fire and shot 7-13 from three. And that last one? Man ... that was a dagger in the heart."
The final shot and the final result also marred what were some stellar performances from some of the Bears.
Junior Will Figures played one of his best games ever in the Blue and Gold. He hit five three-pointers (a career high) and finished with 24 points overall (a season high), but it was the timing of most of his points that almost made the difference in the game. Time and again, his buckets, either soft floaters in the lane or crowd-quieting threes, kept the Bears in the game when it seemed like the Vikings could have hit their shots with blindfolds on.
Freshman Mike Proctor, starting for the fourth straight game and eighth time overall this season, tied a career high with 13 points to go along with a game-high eight rebounds.
And Chris Kaba continued his sizzling Big Sky play, finishing with 12 points after connecting on three of four three-pointers.
"I'm proud of our team," Boyle said. "I'm not proud of the result -- I never will be when we lose a game -- but I think we're getting better and we're getting tougher. I can just feel it. They were literally hurting in the locker room, and to me, that's a great sign. I don't like to see them hurt -- they are all great young men, and I love every one of them -- but the fact that they were hurting is a really good sign for our program."
The seven three-pointers hit by the Bears in the first half gave them 22 long balls in their last three first halves (Johnson & Wales, North Dakota, Portland State)... Northern Colorado senior Jabril Banks played just five minutes Thursday night after not starting because of a re-occurrence of some lingering knee pain that has dogged him all season... Kaba and PSU's Kyle Coston each received a technical foul after a minor dustup late in the second half... Portland State is now 10-0 against Northern Colorado all-time.