Men’s hoops wins CIT championship with win over UIC; Andre Spight named tournament MVP

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The Bears celebrate their CIT Championship after a win over UIC at Bank of Colorado Arena. Photo by Domenic Grey

If you’re a UNC men’s basketball record holder, you might want to check the books and make sure the record hasn’t been broken yet.

The 2017-2018 Bears went through the fire this year, but it wasn’t all for nothing. They now can call themselves champions.

The CollegeInsider.com tournament committee called UNC to extend their postseason, and from that moment, the rest of the field was in trouble.

With a record-setting crowd and the CIT trophy watching from the sideline, the University of Illinois Chicago Flames came to Greeley to steal a championship, but the Bears not only put the flame out but raised the first postseason banner in Big Sky history, winning 76-71 in the Bank of America Arena.

“We understood we couldn’t dwell on us losing to Montana,” junior guard Jordan Davis said. “We had to focus on every practice, possession, game in that present moment, which we did throughout tournament. And now we’re champions.”

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The Bears two-headed monster of Davis and senior Andre Spight were on full display for their last game as teammates. Davis went for 29 and eight rebounds while Spight had 23 points to go with five assists.

The win breaks a great number of school records while making the Bears the first Big Sky team to win a postseason tournament.

“Even though it wasn’t an NCAA tournament berth, you earned a lot of firsts,” head coach Jeff Linder said. “The all-time winningest team in school history. First Big Sky Team to ever win a postseason tournament. To be the first team in Colorado to win a Division I tournament post-season since 1940 or something. To be a team of a lot of firsts.”

UNC came out the locker room with a 36-25 lead, hoping to put the game away early like they did against Sam Houston State, but the flames found a way back in the game.

The Flames went to a 1-3-1 zone midway through the second half, completely shutting down the Bears offense. Many UNC possessions ended with shots with five or less seconds on the clock or a turnover, leading to an east basket the other way.

With 5:09 left, UNC was up 67-56 but by the two-minute warning, the lead had shrunk to 1 at 71-70. After a David layup, the scoring went dry on both ends of the floor until we saw a Peyton Manning bomb from Davis to freshman Jalen Sanders for a touchdown and game sealer.

“We’ve ran that play five or six times this year, and we’ve pretty much scored on everyone,” Linder said. “So, we call it touchdown. Our guys know JD was a quarterback in high school. He’s really good at reading that play.”

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