Northern Colorado men's basketball suffers loss against Montana State at home
Even a homecoming wasn't able to help the UNC men's basketball team get a conference win, losing to Montana State, 69-66.
"We did a lot of good things, we just didn't finish the game off," UNC head coach BJ Hill said.
The University of Northern Colorado (2-10, 0-5 Big Sky) went into Thursday's game after starting conference with four-straight road losses. Montana State (7-7, 4-1) proved to be a physical opponent, but the Bears did not allow the physicality to take charge, keeping a steady lead for most of the game.
After a rocky start, the Bears kept with the Bobcats, and with just under four minutes to go in the first half, junior guard Tate Unruh hit a 3-pointer, giving the Bears a 25-24 lead. The basket from the arc started the Bears on an uncontested seven-point run until the final minute of the half. Heading into the locker room, the Bears led 32-27.
"We've got a lot of weapons offensively, and the way we can shoot it with our guys on the outside, we're hard to guard for teams,' Unruh said. "As long as we stay mentally focused on the offensive end and guard like we can on the defensive end, our weapons, they will work themselves out in these games."
Unruh had a game-high 23 points, shooting 5-11 from the arc - a place where Unruh seems to be the most comfortable. Heading into Thursday's loss, Unruh was second in the Big Sky with 2.73 3-pointers a game and 64th in the country.
In the second half, the physicality of the Bobcats increased, with Unruh taking a hard foul from Montana State's sophomore center Blake Brumwell. Brumwell was charged with a flagrant foul and ejected from the game with 11 minutes remaining in the game.
For junior forward Derrick Barden, the physicality was something he enjoyed, and he pushed through it, getting the only double-double in the loss. Barden had 14 points, and a game-high 11 rebounds - seven offensively.
"I always get beat down in the paint, but I'm man enough, so I love it," Barden said.
With two minutes remaining, Sophomore forward Tim Huskisson fouled senior forward Xaview Blount. Blount's one successful free-throw tied the game at 64. The Bears never regained the lead. With the score tied at 66 and less than a minute remaining, junior center Connor Osborne fouled two separate Bobcats who combined for three points, which sealed the win for Monatana State.
Two seasons ago, UNC had the No. 1 team in the Big Sky, representing the conference in March Madness. That season was followed by one with only one senior, and this season, there are no seniors. The young team has struggled, but Hill said the struggles this Bears team is going through is something the 2011 Big Sky Champs faced as well.
"It's a growth process of a team," Hill said. "Devon (Beitzel), Neal (Kingman) and Taylor (Montgomery), all those guys all went through the same thing. With these guys, you hope these guys went through those circumstances. Last year was a lot of games where they never really had the lead. Now they've grown enough to get leads, we don't know how to finish games."
The Bears will remain at home for a home match against the reigning Big Sky Champion team, Montana. The game is slated for 4:35 Saturday at Butler-Hancock Sports Pavilion.
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