First-place Bears hold on against Portland State
GREELEY -- About midway through the second half Saturday night, it looked like it was going to be easy for Northern Colorado basketball to defeat Portland State for the third straight time.
But then the Viks started raining in 3-pointers like they were layups, and the Bears found themselves in a dogfight in an 85-72 victory at Butler-Hancock Sports Pavilion.
Devon Beitzel scored 15 points to lead all scorers for UNC, and redshirt-freshmen Emmanuel Addo and Tate Unruh had big games, too, as the Bears (13-9, 9-2 Big Sky) moved back into sole possession of first place in the Big Sky Conference after Montana lost at Northern Arizona on Saturday.
Addo tied a career high with 14 points, and he also grabbed eight rebounds. Unruh scored a career-high 13 points in just 16 minutes, and Neal Kingman added 12 points on five-of-seven shooting.
It almost wasn't enough, though.
Northern Colorado held a comfortable 63-36 lead at the 13:09 mark in the second half when the Viks went on a 36-15 run over the next 12 minutes to pull within six, 78-72, with just under two minutes to play.
Portland State (11-12, 4-7) hit 10 of 13 field goals in the dramatic stretch, including eight straight 3-pointers at one point.
When the dust settled, the game was eerily reminiscent of the Bears' 64-61 victory against PSU in Greeley last season. Northern Colorado led by 19 late in that game before the Viks pulled with two in the final minute.
"It's another step in the growing process of this program -- learning how to handle success," Northern Colorado coach B.J. Hill said. "But I told them, 'I'm really getting tired of making that excuse.' I tried to give these guys a little break. I thought they looked tired Thursday night, so we went pretty light yesterday. I guess I need to learn from that. I need to do a better job of preparing these guys for that situation.
"That's the growth that needs to take place. Hopefully you just have guys that learn. Hopefully the Tate Unruhs, the Elliott Lloyds, the Paul Garnicas, the Emmanuel Addos, the Mike Proctors -- the guys that will be back -- learn from this. Because hopefully they are going to be in this same situation more and more as this program continues to grow."
Portland State had 15 turnovers Saturday, which Northern Colorado turned into 29 points. The Bears also stomped the Viks in paint points (46-8) and second-chance points (27-4) and won the rebounding battle 43-20.
That's UNC's biggest rebounding victory of the season, surpassing their plus-17 rebounding performance against Bethune-Cookman in Las Vegas.
"Sacramento State had 18 offensive rebounds against them Thursday night, and we told our guys we wanted to do at least that amount tonight," Hill said. "Mike Proctor (10 points, nine rebounds) played his best game in probably over two years, Emmanuel Addo (had) 14 points and eight rebounds in 20 minutes, (and) Tate Unruh -- we've been preaching rebounding to our guards -- had 13 (points) and four (rebounds), with three of those boards offensive."
Phillip Thomas led Portland State with 13 points, and Charles Odum and Dane Johnson had 12 points apiece for the Vikings, who fell to 1-9 away from home this year and lost for the fourth time in five games.
Hill was obviously pleased when the game was over Saturday, but he knows his team has some work to do before it heads to Montana State and Montana this weekend in what has now become one of the biggest road trips in program history.
Victories in both games would put Northern Colorado in prime position to win its first Big Sky regular-season title and host this year's Big Sky Conference Championship with a chance to move onto the NCAA Tournament.
"We'll take tomorrow off, but we've got a big weekend ahead of us," he said. "A lot of planning needs to go into these practices, and, like I said, I need to do a better job of getting these guys prepared, and that starts with practice. The good thing is we've got a couple days to get some good practice in before we go up there."
NOTES: Northern Colorado wins for the third consecutive time against Portland State and improves to 3-11 all-time against the Viks ... To do it, the Bears had to withstand Portland State connecting on eight consecutive 3-pointers in the second half ... Northern Colorado's redshirt-freshmen had a big night: Emmanuel Addo tied a career high with 14 points and Tate Unruh scored a career-high 13 points ... Redshirt-sophomore Elliott Lloyd ripped down a career-high nine rebounds ... Northern Colorado outrebounded the Viks 43-20 ... Its previous best rebounding margin this season was plus 17 against Bethune-Cookman in Las Vegas ... Northern Colorado stomped Portland State in paint points (46-8) and second-chance points (27-4) ... Montana's loss at Northern Arizona on Saturday night, paired with the Bears win here, vaulted UNC into sole possession of first place in the Big Sky standings ... The Bears and the Griz play next Saturday night in Missoula.