RENO, Nevada — Andre Spight has earned the respect of coaches and players around the Big Sky Conference for his explosive scoring ability.
The Arizona State transfer led the league in scoring during league play (24.5 points per game) on the way to earning the league’s Newcomer of the Year honor and a spot on the Big Sky’s all-conference first team.
Northern Colorado junior point guard Jordan Davis has had to take a backseat to Spight both in terms of the spotlight and in his usage rate with the ball in his hands. On Tuesday in the second game of the first round of the Big Sky Tournament here, Davis reminded the rest of the league just how dangerous he is.
With 12th-seeded Northern Arizona selling out to slow down Spight, the explosive, talented Las Vegas product put on a scoring display as the Bears dominated the league’s last place finisher.
NAU limited Spight to 12 points on 5-of-12 shooting but Davis led a balanced scoring attack spurred on by a 3-point barrage. Davis scored 21 points, including 11 points on seven shots and a jaw-dropping one-handed dunk in traffic for the exclamation point to pace Northern Colorado to an 82-59 victory on Tuesday afternoon.
“We tried to look for big plays where we could draw the line in the sand and put the game away,” Davis said. “I think it started with my first oop when Dre got the steal, we were running in transition and it went down hill from there.”
Davis led four Bears in double figures scoring. After the first 12 minutes, Spight adjusted from shooter to distributor, dishing out six of UNC’s 16 assists, leading to an array of open 3-point shots. Senior Anthony Johnson came off the bench to hit five 3-pointers and score 17 points in just nine minutes. Defensive stopper Jonah Radebaugh showed off his shooting stroke (3-of-6 from deep) while posting a 12-point, 11-rebound double-double.
“JD (Davis) did a heck of a job in the first half of keeping us going while Dre (Spight) was trying to figure his way out and then (Spight) responded in the second half when he realized they were really trying to take away his ability to score. He was able to get by guys to create open shots
Northern Colorado hit 14 3-pointers in 31 attempts, including 9-of-17 from deep in the second half to pull away after taking a 36-25 lead into halftime. Radebaugh hit three 3-pointers, Chaz Glotta drilled two off the bench and Spight hit a pair to help the Bears never trail.
“We focused on ourselves and didn’t try to think too much about the stuff the other team was going to do,” Radebaugh, the league’s Defensive Player of the Year last season, said. “Most of our practices are really fine-tuning ourselves because if you get caught up in the other team, you lose the stuff you are really good at.”
A season ago, Northern Colorado was the lone team in the Big Sky that did not participate in the 12-team neutral site conference tournament. The Bears were ineligible because of self-mandated regulations for NCAA violations.
In Linder’s second year, the Bears made the first statement of a wide open men’s tournament that many coaches think is any team’s to win. The victory means the fifth seed moves into Thursday’s second quarterfinal game against fourth-seeded Weber State.
“This is a message to the Big Sky that last year, we didn’t get to play so we are trying to show what we can do and that we are trying to make some noise here,” Davis said.
Northern Arizona managed just two Big Sky wins and a 5-26 record overall in Jack Murphy’s sixth season at the helm. The Lumberjacks shot 52 percent after halftime but often traded 2-pointers for UNC’s 3-pointers as the gap continued to widen and the underdogs could never make a run.
“You go into the game and you are trying to hold Spight down and if you would’ve told me before the game that Spight would have 12 points, I would figure it’s coming down to the wire. I think we executed what we wanted to do.
“Any other year, Northern Colorado would be a top two or three team so to compete, we had to switch some things up.”
NAU was able to take the ball out of Spight’s hands, limiting a player who scored more than 30 points twice and more than 40 points two times in the last four weeks alone to 12 points and 12 shots. But the depth and talent of one of the league’s most improved teams was on full display as Davis slashed and soared above the rim, finishing 8-of-13 from the floor, including two alley-oop dunks and the exclamation pointer slam that gave the Bears a 71-47 lead with 5:30 left.
“Craziest dunk I’ve ever seen in person, ever,” Radebaugh said. “SC Top 10.”
“I told a fellow coach the other day that both those guys (Davis & Spight) should both be in the Pac 12,” Murphy said. “They are high-level talents. Jordan Davis, the only reason he’s not in the conversation for MVP of the league or first-team all-league is he’s playing right alongside Andre Spight.”
Northern Colorado’s lead swelled to 76-47 with 3:40 left when true freshman Jalen Sanders dilled his long 3-pointer of the afternoon. The Bears cruised into the quarterfinals from there.
UNC’s attention now turns to Weber State, a team that beat the Bears by slim margins twice this season. The Wildcats posted a 78-74 win in Greeley before beating UNC 71-66 in overtime in Ogden less than a month ago.
Linder coached on WSU 12th-year head coach Randy Rahe’s staff at Weber State for Rahe’s first three years in Ogden beginning in 2006. He is 0-4 in his career against his former boss, all six losses by six points or less.
“Our last four games have come down to the last 30 seconds and I really think we gave one away at their place,” Linder said. “At the same time, Coach Rahe, their staff, their program, they’ve found ways to win this season and that’s ultimately the mark of a good program.
“I haven’t beat him yet so hopefully I found the right time to beat him.”
Colter Nuanez is the co-founder and senior writer at Skyline Sports (skylinesportsmt.com), a multimedia website providing coverage of the Big Sky Conference. He can be reached at Colter.Nuanez@gmail.com.