Barden's big day pushes Bears to 78-64 win over Hornets
By ZACH BOND
GREELEY – Northern Colorado scored the game's first seven points and never looked back in its wire-to-wire 78-64 win over Sacramento State inside Butler-Hancock on Saturday night.
The Bears came out strong, paced by a powerful game by Derrick Barden, and won their third straight as they look to be peaking at the exact right time coming down the home stretch of the Big Sky regular season.
With the win, the Bears moved into a three-way tie for fifth in the conference standings with a 7-9 Big Sky mark. They are 9-15 overall and find themselves just a game behind third place. The win was all the more important considering that, coming into Saturday, Sacramento State was a game ahead of the Bears in the standings.
"I really liked our focus the first 20 minutes," Northern Colorado coach B.J. Hill said. "I thought they had a sense of urgency about them on both ends of the floor – followed the game plan really well. The two things I was happy with were our defensive field goal percentage was really good in the first half, and we only turned the ball over four times (in the first half). That was the key for us to take it from nine to 10, to 18 (points). In that past we've gone from nine or 10 and then gone in up four or five. It was another sign of maturity, another sign of what it takes to win games. If we can continue that, we can be a good team."
Barden (Detroit, Mich.) was huge all night for the Bears, finishing the game with a dominant score line: 21 points and 14 rebounds on 10-of-11 shooting from the field. Those 21 points tied his career high and marked the second straight game he's reached that total. The Big Sky's second-leading rebounder's 14 boards was just one shy of tying his career high.
"Derrick Barden was an absolute animal," Hill said. "He's a very tough matchup for everybody in the Big Sky and when he plays like that, we're very hard to beat because he finishes so many possessions defensively with the way he rebounds and he gets us more possessions with the way he rebounds on the offensive end.
"It's what he's capable of doing when he's focused. He's an unbelievable athlete who plays with such an unbelievable motor. I'm glad he's on our team. He's a joy to coach because he's got not ego. He comes and works his tail off every day and doesn't question you. It's nice to see a kid that's that willing to work, reap the benefits."
As mentioned before, Northern Colorado didn't waste any time in jumping out to an early lead against a Hornets team that beat the Bears in Sacramento earlier this season. Northern Colorado got out to that 7-0 lead, eventually stretching it 22-13 with just over 10 minutes left in the half.
The big blow in the half came towards the end though, as the Bears ended the first half on a 10-2 run the expanded their lead to 45-27.
The key player in the first half was, of course, Barden. He turned in arguably his best half of his brief Northern Colorado career, notching a double-double in the first 20 minutes with 15 points on 7-of-8 shooting and 10 rebounds.
The other key player in the Bears' big first half was redshirt junior Tate Unruh (Branson, Mo.), who finished the half with 12 of his 20 total points on 4-of-7 shooting. As usual, the nation's ninth-best three-point shooter was productive from long range, going 2-of-4 from distance in the first half.
He finished the game 6-of-12 from the floor and 3-of-7 from three-point land. He also had a productive night from the free-throw line, making a season-high five free throws on six attempts.
Sophomore Tim Huskisson (Willard, Mo.) was the other Bear to score in double figures for the game, pouring in 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting. His ability to dive inside the lane and create scoring opportunities for both himself and his teammates proved crucial in the Bears' win. He finished the game 3-of-5 from the free throw stripe while also dishing out three assists and grabbing four rebounds.
The Northern Colorado offense has been key to this recent stretch of success, as Saturday's win marked the third straight time the Bears' offense has shot more than 50 percent from the field. Saturday, the Bears finished with 50.8 percent shooting.
The defense held the Hornets to just less than 45 percent shooting from the field, but its best work came in defending the three-point shot. The Bears' defense held the Hornets to just 3-of-17 (17.6 percent) shooting from behind the arc.
After building that large lead heading into the locker room, Northern Colorado continued its momentum in the second half, stretching its lead to its largest all night at 53-33 with 15 minutes to go in the game.
At that point though, Sacramento State began a slow, but steady, effort to get back into the game, scoring the next 11 points to get back within single digits with 10 minutes left.
It was a clutch Tevin Svihovec (Kingwood, Texas) 3-pointer that broke the Bears out of their slump and pushed the lead back out to 12. That three led the seven straight points for the Bears that eventually gave them a 60-44 lead. The Hornets never got the Northern Colorado lead to less than 10 points the rest of the game.
The Hornets were led by Cody Demps, who scored 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting. Konner Veteto was the only other Sacramento State player to reach double figures, finishing with 12 points.
Things don't get any easier, or less important, as the Bears come hurling down the final five games of the Big Sky season. Next up is another huge home game, this time against North Dakota, one of the two teams tied for third in the conference, one game ahead of the Bears. That game will be played at 7:05 p.m. (MT) on Wednesday, Feb. 20 inside Butler-Hancock.
"It's a big win, but these guys just need to keep focusing on what has gotten them to win their last three games in a row," Hill said. "I'm starting to feel these guys play with a sense of pride. I'm starting to see them verbally talk about the things on the floor that they need to be talking about to be successful. That's what mature teams do. That's what teams that are invested do and I think these guys are starting to figure it out."