Dog Gone It!
BOX SCORE: at Fresno State
FRESNO, Calif. -- Aside from its lopsided defeat at Creighton last Saturday, Northern Colorado's men's basketball team has found itself in a lot of nip-and-tuck contests this season.
A lot of games where just a few plays have decided the ultimate outcome.
And so it was again Thursday night inside Fresno State's Save Mart Center, where the Bears, playing in their second game of the 2008 Findlay Toyota Las Vegas Classic, held a late lead against the host Bulldogs befor seeing their advantage disappear down the stretch.
Fresno State 70, Northern Colorado 65.
"Our defense wasn't our problem tonight," Northern Colorado coach Tad Boyle said. "... You look at the field-goal percentage on defense, that certainly wasn't our problem. We held them to 39.6 percent, and that's a great number.
"It's just the turnovers that killed us -- and the second shots. They had 11 offensive rebounds. Either one of those categories can be looked at as costing us the game."
Now the Bears, continuing their scheduling quirk that has them playing games in and out of the Las Vegas Classic every other contest lately, will step back out of the eight-team Classic field to take on San Jose State on Saturday afternoon.
Northern Colorado (3-6) will then complete its longest road trip of the season Monday and Tuesday afternoon by dipping back into the Classic tournament, taking on Liberty on Monday and either South Carolina Upstate or Southern on Tuesday at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.
In the second half Tuesday night, junior John Pena and senior Jabril Banks did nearly everything they could to get the Bears off on the right foot on this four-games-in-six-days roadie.
Pena poured in all 13 of his points in the game's second 20 minutes, and Banks added 11 to go along with two first-half points.
Northern Colorado entered the halftime break down just 36-30, but Fresno State (5-5) nailed three-pointers on three straight possessions from the 17:17 mark to the 15:58 mark to take a nine-point lead, 47-38.
It's at that point that Pena and Banks went to work, helping the Bears claw their way back into the contest and ultimatly take a lead.
Pena splashed down a huge three-pointer of his own on Northern Colorado's ensuing possession, sparking a 12-0 run -- which coincided with Boyle's decision to break the Bears' defense into a 2-3 zone.
Northern Colorado, after being down nine on two different occasions, was up three, 50-47, with 12:35 remaining in the game.
"Our team has grown, since the Air Force game, with our mental toughness," Boyle said. "I don't think that's a factor. I think our guys have really come together."
The teams would then trade baskets and the lead for much of the remainder of the game, with Northern Colorado taking its biggest lead of the contest (four) with 6:41 to play.
The Bulldogs, aided by some favorable viewpoints from the officals -- the Bears committed 11 infractions in the second half to Fresno State's five -- were able to put the game away at the free-throw line and even their season mark.
"In close games, you can point to a lot of different things," Boyle said, "but you have to make plays. We had a three-point lead coming down the stretch, we turn the ball over twice and its gone. We scratch our way back from a few big deficits, we get stops, we build a four-point lead, but we eventually give it right back.
"Turnovers were just absolute back-breakers tonight."
NOTES: Beitzel's three-pointer just seconds into the game gave the Bears a 3-0 bulge and gave Beitzel a successful long-range shot in nine straight games... Northern Colorado uncharacteristically utilized a 2-3 zone for much of the second half... The Bears were outrebounded in the game (37-35), marking the first time this season they have lost the battle of the boards... Northern Colorado shot a season-low 14 free throws in the game... The Bears tied a season-high with eight steals.