Bears tie school record, earn Big Sky bye with Sacramento victory
Final stats | Play-by-play | NC season stats | Tad Boyle KFKA postgame | Elliott Lloyd KFKA postgame
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Northern Colorado men’s basketball won its Senior Night this year and Sacramento State’s.
The Bears got 20 points from senior Will Figures and career-high efforts from freshman Elliott Lloyd and sophomore Mike Proctor, who both scored 16, to put away Sacramento State 78-66 and clinch the second seed in this year’s Big Sky Conference tournament.
Northern Colorado (24-6, 12-4 Big Sky) finished fifth in the Big Sky last season and qualified for their first conference tournament. So it seemed logical that it would increase on that win total this season for a fourth straight time and gain a marginal improvement on that best-ever conference finish.
Well, the Bears skipped that step entirely Saturday night by holding an opponent under 70 points for the 20th time this season (19-1) and limiting Sacramento State (9-21, 3-13) to just one made 3-pointer in 13 attempts (and zero in the second half) after the Hornets entered the game hitting 43 percent from beyond the arc in its last eight contests.
Northern Colorado, which tied a school record for wins (1988-89) and won its 12th road or neutral-site game this season for the first time since 1965, shot 55 percent in the victory and won for the fourth straight time against the Hornets and improved to 6-2 all-time against Sacramento State.
The Bears will now receive a bye into the semifinals of this year's conference tournament and will get nine days off before lacing them up at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 9, in the first of two Big Sky Conference semifinal games at Dee Events Center in Ogden, Utah.
Northern Colorado, winners of 12 conference games for just the seventh time in school history, now sits just two wins shy of advancing to its first "Big Dance" -- the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s been amazing,” Northern Colorado coach Tad Boyle said. “I can’t be more proud of a group of guys than I am of these guys. We’ve faced some adversity along the way -- we’ve faced some injuries during the second half of this conference season -- but we came out here tonight and got a win that we might have come up a bit short in in previous seasons. This whole season has shown how far our program has come, and that continued tonight. We controlled our fate in getting that second spot, and we won on the road during an emotional night for the home team.”
The Bears' biggest lead of the game came at 60-44 with 11:23 remaining in the second half when Figures, who moved into seventh on Northern Colorado’s all-time scoring list, was left wide-open beyond the arc and he buried one of his three 3-pointers. The Hornets cut Northern Colorado’s lead to 10 on three different occasions thereafter but failed to get any closer.
Junior Neal Kingman added 11 points in the Bears victory for his seventh double-digit scoring effort in his last 12 games and Figures and Kingman each snagged six rebounds to help Northern Colorado win the rebounding battle 34-26.
Justin Eller led all scorers with 25 points for Sacramento State and Duro Bjegovich had 10 points for Sacramento State, which finished ninth in this year’s conference race.
The Bears nailed six threes in the first half and shot 58 percent overall to take a 43-33 halftime advantage.
“It’s kind of amazing,” Boyle said. “We win tonight by 12 on the road, and I’m a little disappointed. But then I look at the stat sheet, and we shoot 55 percent, we outrebound them by eight, we shot the ball well from the free-throw line. We did a lot of good things tonight -- it’s just defensively we gave up some easy ones late. But we win by 12, we play pretty darn good, and I’m just kind of like, ‘Ho hum.’ I’m just proud of these guys and what they put together this year.”
So, now the Bears will regroup back in Greeley and prepare for what they hope will be an successful run through the Big Sky tournament. Northern Colorado will face either Montana, Montana State or Northern Arizona in the semifinals and then would take on either Portland State, Northern Arizona, Montana, Montana State or Weber State in the championship game on Wednesday, March 10, which will be televised on ESPN2.
Northern Colorado has defeated all those teams at least once this season and has lost to each, as well, with the exception of Northern Arizona, which the Bears swept in this regular season.
“We can kind of regroup now (with the long break) and get our guys rested” Boyle said. “We’re definitely not going to practice every day, that’s for sure. We’ve got to figure out as a staff and talk about as a staff what the best way to approach it is. We’ll address that on the way back tomorrow and on Monday and get a game plan.
“The thing about this team is that they have risen to every challenge we have given them -- they’ll do whatever is asked of them -- and, boy, as a coach, that’s all you can ask of them.”
QUICK NOTES: Northern Colorado clinches second seed in Big Sky Conference tournament, not needing the help it got Saturday night when Montana State won 73-67 at Montana ... The Bears tied the school record for wins (24-6) ... Elliott Lloyd scored career-high 16 points ... Mike Lloyd scored career-high 16 points ... Bears improve to 19-1 when allowing fewer than 70 points this season.