Bears Go Into Overtime To Get First Win of the Season
BOX SCORE: at Denver
DENVER -- The last time Northern Colorado's men's basketball team accomplished what it did tonight inside Denver's Magness Arena, George Bush was readying to become President of the United States.
And not the current Bush residing at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, either. No, the last time the Bears left Denver's gym with a victory, George Herbert Walker Bush was just 10 days shy of beginning his stint in office.
Northern Colorado righted its 2008-09 season Wednesday night with a 71-66 overtime victory against the Pioneers -- the program's first victory in this much-anticipated season and its first against Denver in Denver since Jan. 10, 1989.
"We weren't perfect," Northern Colorado coach Tad Boyle said, "there's still a lot we can learn from this game, but I was really proud of our guys.
"This was a game we needed to win. We needed it for our confidence and for our mental toughness. It's something that hadn't been done in 20 years. I'm really just proud of our guys."
With their close proximity to each other, it's no wonder to see that these teams have played each other often through the years. But, coming into Wednesday night's contest, the Pioneers held a 73-41 advantage in the series and had won 15 of their last 16 games against Northern Colorado.
So it should come as no surprise that this game went into overtime and required some exceptional performances from the Bears to end in a win for Northern Colorado.
The teams went into overtime tied at 61, and the teams traded baskets for much of the five-minute extra period before Northern Colorado entered the final minute up one, 67-66.
Senior Jabril Banks, who finished the night with 20 points and seven rebounds, was then fouled with 34 seconds left. He made both of the ensuing free throws, putting the Bears up 69-66.
Fellow senior Robert Palacios then snatched a carom off a missed Denver 3-pointer with fewer than 10 seconds left and got the ball out to Will Figures, who was fouled.
Figures, the best free-throw shooter the Bears have had since beginning play at the NCAA Division I level, walked to the line and knocked both of his attempts down.
And Boyle's bunch, a little over a week after struggling from the line against Colorado State, finished the night missing only four free throws.
The Bears were a perfect eight-of-eight in overtime from the stripe. Will Figures made six of those, en route to his 17-point performance.
"It all came down to free throws in the overtime," Banks said. "I was really happy that we were able to go to the line and be clutch. Every day in practice, all of us stay after and shoot about 100 free throws. And that showed tonight."
It looked on multiple occasions like the Bears were going to pull away and put the game out of reach on Wednesday night. But every time they went on a run, it seemed like Denver was able to find an open man in the corner or off a skip pass across the court and bury it to regain some momentum.
Denver hit 59 percent of its shots in the second half, including five of 10 from three-point land, to keep pace with Northern Colorado.
"They made some tough, tough shots in the second half," Boyle said. "I mean, shoot, they hit 59 percent in the second half. We just overcame. Offensively, we weren't doing as well as we could have or should have. But it was our defense that really helped us.
"We just wanted to make them earn everything they could get. And I think we did that, for the most part, tonight."
NOTES: The last time Northern Colorado and Denver played into overtime came all the way back on Dec. 1, 1953, when the Bears exploded in the extra time for a 72-56 victory... Sophomore guard Devon Beitzel got his first start of the season in the game… Boyle, looking to capitalize on DU's execution-heavy offense, brought an entire new five into the game at the 12:478 mark in the first half... Junior-transfer John Pena scored a career-high 11 points in the win.