Men's basketball cruises in tune-up win vs. Johnson & Wales
GREELEY, Colo. -- Senior Will Figures helped Northern Colorado and its fans celebrate the past Tuesday with a crisp and efficient 22-point Senior Night performance against Johnson & Wales.
And true-freshman Connor Osborne backed him with 11 points, seven rebounds and three blocks. That kind of effort gave those same fans a glimpse of the future in the Bears' 88-67 victory over the NAIA Division II Wildcats.
Northern Colorado (23-6, 11-4 Big Sky) shot out to a 15-point lead, 27-12, barely more than seven minutes into the game and put it on cruise control from there in moving to 5-0 all-time against Johnson & Wales and winning its 23rd game in a single season for just the second time in school history.
The Bears put 11 guys on the floor throughout the contest, and each of the players Northern Colorado head coach Tad Boyle sent it scored at least two points, including senior Yahosh Bonner (seven points, three assists) and senior walk-on Ben Jenkins, who saw his first career action in the game and scored six points and grabbed five rebounds.
"Tonight's game was about the seniors," Boyle said. "It was about Will, it was about Yahosh, and it was about Ben. I'm really happy for those kids and what they've brought to our program. I'm just glad it was a feel-good night for our program. That's why we scheduled this game. It was a good night."
The Bears took a 55-38 lead into halftime, and those were the most points scored by Northern Colorado in a first-half this season and tied its most points scored in any half (second half, San Jose State). At that point, the Bears seemed a lock to win their 12th home game for the first time since 1992 and third time since 1970.
The Wildcats (15-13, 5-0 NAIA Division II Independents) didn't back down in the final 20 minutes, though, and actually outscored the Bears 39-33 in the second half. Northern Colorado was obviously trying to rest starters and test different combinations down the stretch, but Boyle still said he would have loved to put together a full game, regardless of the personnel on the floor.
"I challenged our guys at halftime to come out and be as efficient offensively in the second half as they were in the first half," Boyle said. "So, you can see how well they react to my challenges. But it's been that way here lately. We've been really clicking in first halves, and we've had to rely on our defense in the second half."
The contest was the Bears' final regular-season home game this season before they head out this weekend to take on Sacramento State in their final regular-season game Saturday night.
Northern Colorado has already clinched a spot in the Big Sky Conference tournament, but if it leaves the Hornets Nest with a victory, it will clinch the No. 2 seed in this year's postseason tourney and receive a bye into the semifinals in Ogden, Utah. If the Bears lose, they'll need some help to secure that second spot.
So, Tuesday night's game gave Northern Colorado a chance to celebrate the transformation the program has undergone since Figures' first season -- NC finished 4-24 in 2006-07 -- and work out some more kinks as it gears up for what figures to be a dogfight Saturday night in Sacramento.
"We took this game as an opportunity to get better," Figures said. "Guys were here earlier than usual at the shootaround -- they were getting better -- and we really looked at this game tonight as a chance to improve as a team. We've got a huge game coming up Saturday night, and we need to be clicking on all cylinders when we get to Sacramento."
Said Boyle: "We've got business to take care of Saturday in Sacramento. It's a big game for our basketball program, and when that one's over with we're going to leave everything on the floor and see where we go from there."
With so many players getting more than their usual allotment of time on the floor, season and career highs were inevitable. But no performance was more impressive than Osborne's. He's been pressed into duty at various times this season, and he's shown minor glimpses of what Boyle and his assistants saw in him as a dominant high school center at Columbine High.
He's never been as much of a factor as he was in this one, though.
"Connor is going to be really good," Boyle said. "There's no question about it. He just needs playing time and experience. He's shown in practice what he's capable of doing. I thought a couple times tonight he rushed -- he's trying to go too fast, which sometimes happens when you're playing smaller, quicker players. But if he would just slow down, there was no way they could guard him in there.
"He's going to continue to get better. He did a lot of good things that normally you don't see out of a freshman. He just keeps getting better."
QUICK NOTES: Seniors Yahosh Bonner, walk-on Ben Jenkins and Will Figures each got the starting nod on Northern Colorado's Senior Night ... It was Jenkins' first career start and his first career points came on a layup at 18:43 in the first half ... Northern Colorado wins 23 games in a single season for just the second time in school history ... The Bears win 12 home games in a single season for the first time since 1992 ... Northern Colorado moves to 5-0 all-time against Johnson & Wales ... The Bears' 55 first-half points were their most in a first half this season and tied their highest half this year (San Jose State, second half) ... Northern Colorado scored season-high 46 points in the paint ... Connor Osborne had career-high 11 points and seven rebounds ... Hauns Brereton ripped down career-high eight rebounds ... Sophomore walk-on Lee Hall scored career-high four points.