Men's basketball sends seniors out with a bang
GREELEY, Colo. -- Northern Colorado's men's basketball team made program history Thursday night by knocking off the Montana Grizzlies and qualifying for its first Big Sky Conference tournament.
The Bears then put the cherry on top of that accomplishment Sunday afternoon at Butler-Hancock Sports Pavilion with a 77-50 throttling of Montana State in Northern Colorado's regular-season finale.
The Bears (14-17, 8-8) got scoring from 12 players in their largest victory of the season, including some standout performances from their three seniors on Senior Day.
Senior Jabril Banks led all players with 14 points in his final game at Butler-Hancock and senior Robert Palacios added four in his.
Perhaps the biggest star of the day, though, was senior Matt Dunsmoor, who, in his second straight start for Tad Boyle's program, scored a career-high seven points -- highlighted by a rim-rattling dunk in the game's first few minutes.
"It feels really good," Dunsmoor said. "I did not expect what unfolded tonight to unfold. But I was really happy with it. I couldn't have picked a better way to go out at home."
Added Boyle: "I'm really happy for Matt Dunsmoor -- you can tell by the crowd's reaction how they feel about him -- and, of course, Jabril and Robert have brought us back to respectability. Now, with those guys gone, it's the rest of the guy's opportunity to take it to the next level."
With the win, the Bears have now secured the fifth seed in next week's Big Sky Conference Men's Basketball Championship and will face Idaho State in a quarterfinal game at 7:05 p.m. Saturday, March 7, in Pocatello, Idaho.
Northern Colorado and Idaho State split their season series this year, with each team winning at home.
The Bears earned next Saturday's game with the Bengals with a relentless attack Sunday afternoon against the Bobcats (12-15, 6-9). Northern Colorado started the game on a 13-2 run and finished the half ahead 36-23.
The Bears outrebounded Montana State 40-29 in the win, including going into the halftime break with a 28-9 advantage.
Northern Colorado then opened the second half with six straight points to put away the game away.
"I was really proud of the way we got out of the gates today," Boyle said. "I thought that was the key with Montana State. I wasn't sure how much energy they would have today, with Eastern Washington losing today and then getting in (the tournament) that way. I don't think we got their best shot.
"But I was mainly concerned with us getting better as a program today, and we did. So I was happy with that."
The Bears shot 48 percent (24-50) from the field Sunday and 85 percent (22-26) from the free-throw line. Those numbers, combined with their 11 steals, helped them hold a conference opponent to a season-low in points.
It also helped Northern Colorado get its biggest Big Sky win in its three seasons in the league and three straight victories against Montana State for the first time in the 86-year history of the series (44 games).
"It was a great game," Boyle said. "We don't have many blowouts, and we rebounded the ball well. The only thing we didn't do is take care of the ball -- we turned it over 18 times, and I'm never going to be happy about that."
So, now it's on to uncharted territory in the Big Sky postseason tournament. A loss Sunday would have pitted Northern Colorado against defending-Big Sky champs Portland State, who the Bears have never defeated.
Instead, though, it's Idaho State.
The Bears and Benglas have played two great games this year, with Idaho State getting a 62-61 win on a last-second tip-in in overtime in Pocatello on New Year's day and Northern Colorado earning a 79-74 victory in Greeley in early February.
March Madness has arrived for teams all over the country, and now, in just their second year of postseason eligibility, Tad Boyle's program is ready to put on its dancing shoes.
"I don't think we're a team that people want to play," Boyle said. "I think we're hard to prepare for, from the standpoint of our personnel. We shoot the ball well from the perimeter, and we've got Jabril down low and Mike Proctor, and Taylor Montgomery is coming along. I think when you have that inside-outside presence, it's hard to guard.
"But I think every game this time of year is tough because everybody is playing for the same thing: Survive and advance or your season's over. Everything is on the line every time you step on the floor."