Men's Basketball can't overcome Montana in Big Sky semifinal loss
By ZACH BOND
MISSOULA, Mont. -- Northern Colorado Men's Basketball couldn't overcome an early deficit Friday night and had its season end with a 70-56 loss to top-seed Montana in the Big Sky Championship semifinals at Dahlberg Arena.
The Grizzlies (24-6) snapped a four-game winning streak for the Bears (13-18), who ended their season winning seven of their final 10.
"My hat's off to Montana," Northern Colorado coach B.J. Hill said. "[The Griz] played with a lot of passion [and] a lot of toughness. I thought their pressure set the tone early in the game. It took us out of some stuff that we were trying to do offensively and frustrated our guys who haven't been in this exact situation before. Our inexperience showed a little bit with having never been on somebody else's home court in a tournament-type atmosphere."
Northern Colorado fell behind 11-0 after the first five minutes and didn't score its first basket until the 14:03 mark of the first half, when Derrick Barden put in a layup. The Griz eventually built their lead to 15-2 before Northern Colorado found its legs and began to battle back.
The Bears put together a 15-5 run over the next 13 minutes to pull within three, 20-17, with 6:31 to play before half, and the teams traded runs for the rest of the game, with Montana ending on a 12-6 run in the final five minutes to move onto Saturday's Big Sky Championship final.
Northern Colorado was led by its pair of frontcourt stars in Connor Osborne and Barden, who both scored 18 points.
Osborne (Littleton, Colo.) posted his first career double-double, scoring 18 points on 8-of-12 shooting and grabbing 12 rebounds, including six on the offensive glass, where he consistently kept the Bears in the game with put-backs.
Barden (Detroit, Mich.), who finished eight of 18 from the field, had seven rebounds, including six in the second half.
"I'm very proud of my guys and the way they battled back [and] continued to fight," Hill said. "These two warriors up here (Barden and Osborne) were unbelievable. We just needed a little more patience out front. When we did have some patience I thought we got some extremely good looks to both Connor and Derrick."
Montana's backcourt defense was the difference. Guards Tevin Svihovec and Tate Unruh, usual offensive stalwarts, were held in check, and the Bears struggled in their absence. Those two entered Friday averaging 26 points per game but scored just 10 between them Friday.
Northern Colorado shot 37.3 percent from the field, and it struggled from outside, shooting just 18.8 percent.
The Bears' defense held the Grizzlies to just 23.8 percent shooting from behind the arc, but Montana did a majority of its offensive damage off Northern Colorado turnovers, scoring 17 points off 12 Bears miscues.
Northern Colorado scored just six points off 13 Montana turnovers.
The Griz ended the first half on a 14-8 run, to go into the locker room with a 34-25 lead, and the Bears, once again, cut Montana's lead to three, at 41-38, with 13:06 left. But that's the closest they would get as Montana continued to push the lead back out to eight or more.