Men's Basketball rides record-breaking shooting to big win over Bengals
By ZACH BOND
GREELEY – Northern Colorado men's basketball set a school Division I record by shooting 71.4 percent from long range in its 78-63 win at home Thursday night over Idaho State.
The Bears made 15-of-21 from three-point range and bested the previous Division I mark of 68.8 percent, set in 2009 (minimum of 10 makes).
Those 15 3-pointers was also a season high for the Bears and the most the team's made in a single game since the 2009-10 season. They were so proficient from outside that they actually finished the game with more made 3-pointers (15), than 2-pointers (12).
When you shoot the ball like that, it covers up for a lot of mistakes," Northern Colorado coach B.J. Hill said. "We played better on the defensive end, not great, but when you shoot the ball like that, it's going to be hard for people to beat you.
"Idaho State plays a matchup zone that's hard to play against. We tried to get the ball inside in the first half, but we didn't do a very good job of it, so we went to a different action against it to try and loosen up some stuff and our guys did a good job of being patient and staying with it. We took a lot of threes, but we didn't take bad shots. There's a difference between taking a lot and taking bad ones, and I thought we took good ones."
With the win, Northern Colorado improved to 4-7 in Big Sky play and 6-13 overall. The win proved to be a crucial one, as Idaho State, along with two other teams, was tied with the Bears in the Big Sky standings coming into the night.
The loss dropped Idaho State to 3-8 in conference play and 4-16 overall.
The story of the game proved to be the Bears' long-range gunning, but the most remarkable aspect of the contest was the shooting display Northern Colorado put on after halftime.
The Bears went into the locker room at the half leading the Bengals by just one, 29-28, after Idaho State's Nick Mason hit a three from the corner at the buzzer.
Northern Colorado opened the second half on fire and kept riding the hot shooting stroke the rest of the way, knocking down its first 10 3-pointers of the half on its way to 10-of-12 shooting from long range for the half.
The main culprit behind the parade of second-half threes was Paul Garnica (San Antonio, Texas). The junior guard finished the half making 4-of-5 from outside and pouring in 15 points, just in the final 20 minutes. He finished the game tying his career high with six made threes (6-of-8) and a season-high 21 points.
"When Paul gets it going, you have to give him some freedom, and he got it going," Hill said. "I'd love to be able to play Paul 20 minutes whether it's at home, on the road, wherever, but he's got to buy into being as consistence defensively as he is offensively. When he figures that out, he's going to play a lot more. We need him to show up like that and play with that kind of confidence on the road, which, so far, hasn't been the case. Maybe this is the game that gets him going."
Garnica had two key stretches, with the first coming in the first half as he came off the bench and hit back-to-back 3-pointers within a 30-second span.
That run was capped off by another three by Tate Unruh to give the Bears a 16-9 lead and force an Idaho State timeout.
Garnica's other key stretch game came about midway through the second half, when he scored nine of 11 points for the Bears. The run was bookended by a pair of 3-pointers, with the final one putting the Bears up 59-45 and capping off an 11-6 run.
Unruh (Branson, Mo.) was not to be left out of the three-point party, as he tied his career high with five 3-pointers for the ninth time in his career. He finished 5-of-6 from outside and made it five straight home games in which he's knocked down five triples. He finished with 15 points on the night.
Sophomore Tim Huskisson (Willard, Mo.) was the other Northern Colorado player to have a big day from outside, finishing with 15 points on 5-of-9 shooting. The forward made 3-of-4 from behind the arc. He was perfect from outside in the second half, making all three of his attempts.
"I thought Tim had good energy about him in the first half and had a couple of bad fouls," Hill said. "Tim's a guy that, for a lot of games this year, if something happens like that, or he turns the ball over, he hasn't been able to put it behind him. Tonight, he did a great job.
"I think he took a big step and was able to grow up and put that first half behind him and help his team. He played with superior confidence and good players need to play with confidence. He's a heck of a player and he needs to play with that type of confidence and energy every game."
Thursday's contest was a fitting bit of revenge for the Bears too, as the game proved to be an almost mirror image of an 86-63 Bengals win earlier in the year. In that one, Idaho State was the team that made 15 3-pointers.
The Bears certainly came into Thursday's game aware of that fact, as they held the Bengals to 38 percent shooting from deep (8-of-21).
Northern Colorado shot 56.3 percent from the field for the game and held the Bengals to 44.2 percent. The Bears won in almost every statistical category, including recording 19 assists compared to just 10 for Idaho State. With just 12 turnovers, Thursday's contest marked the fifth straight game the Bears finished with more assists than turnovers.
Now, armed with the confidence provided by such a hot-shooting night, the Bears will look to continue their blistering pace as they prepare for second-place Weber State. The Wildcats come to Greeley at 7:05 p.m. (MT) on Saturday.