February 21, 2024
Northern Colorado men’s basketball second-half surge scores win over Portland State


For the second straight week, the Northern Colorado men’s basketball team started slow in its second game of a weekend.

The Bears finished fast — very fast — Saturday evening against Portland State, getting its largest margin of victory this year with a 90-61 Big Sky Conference win at Bank of Colorado Arena in Greeley.

UNC started the second half on a 25-0 run, outscored the Vikings 55-12 deep into the half and poured in 80 points over the final 30 minutes after scoring 10 points in the first 8 minutes, 16 seconds of the game.

University of Northern Colorado's Saint Thomas scores against Portland State at Bank of Colorado Arena on Saturday Jan. 20, 2024.(Jim Rydbom/Staff Photographer)University of Northern Colorado’s Saint Thomas scores against Portland State at Bank of Colorado Arena on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024.(Jim Rydbom/Staff Photographer)

“In the halftime, (coach Steve) Smiley didn’t have to say much, we kind of locked in as a team,” forward Saint Thomas said in a post-game media session. “Kind of talked about the Montana State game, kind of — from Thursday to Saturday — that second game we came out slow and looked tired.”

Thomas, the Bears’ leading scorer this season (19.9 points) who had only three points in the first half on 1 of 6 shooting, said the players told each other at the break to “empty the tank” in the second half against the Vikings.

Thomas scored 17 of his game-high 20 points in the second half to go with 13 rebounds, giving the transfer from Loyola Chicago his ninth double-double in 18 games. He also had a team-best five assists.

Guard Dejour Reaves came off the bench to score 15 points and remains the Bears’ second-leading scorer despite missing time weeks ago with an injury. Forward graduate student Riley Abercrombie missed a couple of shots in the first half but came on late in the half as UNC was able to chip into Portland State’s lead.

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Abercrombie finished with 13 points and five rebounds, and Brock Wisne added 11 points.

“We knew it was going to break at some point,” said Zach Bloch, a junior guard who scored nine points in his seventh straight start. “Our biggest emphasis in the second half was bringing juice, all 16 guys. All 16 guys had to bring more energy than we had the first half.”

University of Northern Colorado's Dejour Reaves, right, fights off Portland State's Ismail Habib with playing at Bank of Colorado Arena on Saturday Jan. 20, 2024.(Jim Rydbom/Staff Photographer)University of Northern Colorado’s Dejour Reaves, right, fights off Portland State’s Ismail Habib with playing at Bank of Colorado Arena on Saturday Jan. 20, 2024.(Jim Rydbom/Staff Photographer)

With the victory, UNC moves to 4-1 in the Big Sky and 11-7 overall with its seventh victory in eight games at home this year. UNC has won seven of eight since a 90-68 loss to University of Colorado Dec. 15 in Boulder.

Portland State, which led 10-3 less than five minutes into Saturday’s game, dropped to 2-4 in the Big Sky and 11-8 overall.

For the Bears, the game was reminiscent of a week ago, on Jan. 13, when they started slow against Montana in the second game of the weekend but rallied and found their legs before losing 90-81 in overtime in Bozeman.

UNC pulled a 77-75 win over Sacramento State at home Thursday in its first game of the weekend this week. Smiley said the team didn’t exert as much energy in its Friday practice this week.

“After Montana State, I looked at myself in the mirror and said ‘did we do too much on Friday in terms of burning their legs out,’” Smiley said following the Portland State game. “We tried to really kind of slow that down this week. We didn’t do a lot yesterday (Friday) that grinded on them.”

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