Men's basketball moves past Texas Southern and into Minton title game
AIR FORCE ACADEMY -- It wasn't pretty, but Northern Colorado basketball improved to 4-0 on the season Friday night with a 66-62 victory against Texas Southern during the first day of the Reggie Minton Air Force Classic inside Clune Arena.
Senior Will Figures hit a pair of free throws with 5.1 seconds left to ice the win for the Bears, who had led by as many as 13 earlier in the second half.
Junior Devon Beitzel, who was steady but not his usual self during the Bears' championship run through last week's Rainbow Classic, returned to form Friday night with 17 points for Northern Colorado, and Taylor Montgomery added a season-high 13 points, while Mike Proctor scored 10.
It all helped the Bears overcome hitting just two field goals in the final 6:18 and start a season 4-0 for the first time since 1984 and just the sixth time overall since 1901.
Northern Colorado, which shot 53 percent in the victory, advances to Saturday night's Reggie Minton Classic championship game at 8 p.m. against the host Falcons, who defeated Dickinson State 95-77 in Friday's nightcap.
The Bears haven't defeated Air Force since the 1956-57 season, losing 12 straight.
"I'll just call it the ‘Hawai'i Hangover,'" Northern Colorado coach Tad Boyle said. "We thought this might happen when we scheduled this back-to-back like this, and I just had a feeling today during shootaround that we weren't going to be at our sharpest tonight.
"Regardless, we've got to have a little better leadership out there from some of our upperclassmen. If I could see it this afternoon, then they could see it, and we need them to do something about that. We were just lethargic for much of this game, and that's not going to work as we move forward."
The Bears built a 43-40 advantage early in the second half Friday, but Texas Southern (1-3) went on a 15-3 run to pull within one, 46-45, at the 11:55 mark. The Tigers' run was capitalized by a dunk while Figures lay in front of the Northern Colorado bench, writhing in pain with an apparent ankle injury.
But in the nearly four minutes of play that Figures sat on the bench, Beitzel had two of his game-high six rebounds, scored four points and drew an offensive charge.
When Figures re-entered the game, Northern Colorado held a 54-48 lead.
The Bears then scored 10 of their final 14 points from the free-throw line, where they made 22 of 31 in the game.
"Texas Southern is an athletic ball club," Boyle said, "and I knew that if we didn't play our game tonight, they would be able to get some easy buckets against us. And that's what happened. They started to go full court on us late in the first half and into the second half, and we really struggled against it tonight.
"We'll have to play much better tomorrow if we want to have a happy locker room. We didn't have one of those tonight."
Northern Colorado entered the halftime break with a 35-25 advantage after finishing the half on a 10-6 run in the final 4:30.
Figures scored eight of his 12 first-half points in the game's first eight minutes, on a pair of three-pointers and a quick pull-up jumper, and Beitzel added 10 points in the first half.
Northern Colorado forced 14 turnovers in the game, and seven of those came in the first 10 minutes.
The last of which was a Mike Proctor swipe at the top of the Tigers' lane that turned into a two-on-one fast break for he and freshman Elliott Lloyd. Lloyd finished the play with a sweet alley-oop back to Proctor, who slammed it home for a 20-8 advantage.