A collection of returning and new transfer players led the University of Northern Colorado in a tight conference game against Sacramento State. The Bears defeated the Hornets, 77-75, Thursday night at the Bank of Colorado Arena.
Just as time was expiring on the first half, two Sacramento State defenders futilely hit the backboard in an attempt to block a layup by Saint Thomas, a junior transfer from Loyola Chicago, that would extend the Bears lead headed to halftime, 40-33.
The Bears would build upon this lead coming out of the break, up as much as 15 points.
Thomas was doing everything for the Bears. He hit his first shot of the game, a three from the right wing, just 21 seconds into the game and this proved to be some foreshadowing. He led all players, in both points and rebounds, with 20 and 9 respectively.
Thomas paced the Bears, leading in minutes as well, with 35. Dejour Reaves, another junior transfer, scored 16 points. Junior Zach Bloch and sophomore Brock Wisne each had 11 points.
“For him, it’s not the 20 points,” said Steve Smiley, head coach of UNC’s men basketball. “It’s the nine rebounds, five assists, four steals, oh and he’ll go guard the best player on the other team the whole night. It’s amazing what he’s doing.”
Duncan Powell who, like Saint Thomas, came into the game leading his own team in both points and rebounds, is the player Coach Smiley was referring to. The Bears intense defense limited him to 11 points on 4-for-13 shooting on the night.
The intense defense didn’t stop there though.
Despite that 15-point lead by the Bears, the Hornets did not back down. They whittled away at that lead, eventually tying the game at 64 with just under 8 minutes remaining in the game.
The two teams would go back and forth for a few minutes, with neither side giving in.
Finally, with 3:22 remaining, and the game tied at 71. Jaron Rillie, who led the game with six assists, would make a layup to give the Bears the lead. A lead they would not relinquish.
With just under three minutes to play, Wisne stole an inbound pass. The very next possession for the Hornets ended with the Bears forcing them into a shot clock violation.
Alex Kovatchev would make a three to cut the Bears lead to one with 31 seconds to play. Ensuing intentional fouls by the Hornets led the Bears going to the free-throw line, but Reaves was only able to knock down one.
The Hornets would rebound the missed second free throw and call time out upon passing half-court with just 17 seconds left in the game.
This would lead to a dramatic final possession.
Zee Hamoda would size up sophomore Langston Reynolds on the right wing.
In the postgame, Coach Smiley would reveal to the media that in both of Sacramento State’s last two games, Hamoda had hit clutch, late shots from this spot on the floor.
Not tonight though, as Reynolds played him physically and forced that final shot to be off by a lot.
“You can’t just preach culture, you also got to teach it,” Thomas said.
This culture was on full display for the crowd of just over 1,000 people all night.
After that last shot was seen to be off, and the game to be over, the UNC team swarmed Reynolds and their emotion was clear.
Following the win, the Bears (10-7 overall, 3-1 Big Sky) will return to the Bank of Colorado Arena Saturday at 6 p.m. against Portland State.
The Hornets (6-12, 2-3) continue their road trip, playing in Flagstaff against Northern Arizona, also at 6 p.m. Saturday.