The Northern Colorado guard hit a 3-pointer with the shot clock running out to put the Bears up by seven with less than a minute to play. Beitzel, a senior, scored 27 points, including five clutch free throws in the final moments to lead Northern Colorado to a 65–60 victory on Wednesday and the team's first berth into the NCAA Tournament.
Beitzel didn't shoot particularly well from the field, just 38 percent, but scored more than half his points from the free- throw line, a place where the Grizzlies (12–4 in conference, 21–10) sent Northern Colorado over and over again in the second half of the Big Sky Conference Championship game.
With the victory at home in Greeley, Colo., the tournament-host Bears (13–3 in conference, 21–10) will represent the Big Sky Conference at the NCAA Tournament, which kicks off next week.
"Credit Northern Colorado for making the plays," said Montana coach Wayne Tinkle, on the Bears working their way to the foul line. "Having to deal with all that and still taking the game to the last minute …"
Well before the game's end, Montana's three highest scorers — sophomore Will Cherry, senior Brian Qvale and junior Derek Selvig — each had four fouls, one short of fouling out. Sophomore Mathias Ward, who provides punch from the bench as a power forward, also had four fouls on his line at the time.
To keep his stars around at the end of the game when they'd be needed most, Tinkle turned his big players to the bench. All those fouls put a clamp on the Grizzly offense that was already without starting guard Shawn Stockton, who missed the game with a hamstring injury.
"We had guys on the floor in crunch time that haven't been there before," Tinkle said. "I'm really proud of how they stepped up."
By the time the clock showed 0:00, three Grizzlies — Cherry, Jordan Wood and Selvig — had fouled out and another two had four fouls.
On offense, four Grizzlies scored in the double digits, led by Art Steward with 16. Cherry and Kareem Jamar each chipped in 13 with eight of Jamar's points coming in the second half in relief of Cherry and other starters.
Northern Colorado's Beitzel, who was named conference's Most Valuable Player earlier in the week, was one of two Bears in double figure scoring. Neal Kingman added 10 points for a Bears team that finished the season undefeated at home, a perfect 14–0.
"[Beitzel] is tough, man," Tinkle said. "He's very aggressive and is rewarded for that aggressiveness. He's a great free throw shooter and one of our keys was to keep him off the line."
The Griz bottled Beitzel up on the floor, Tinkle added, but "you can't guard him from the line."
Montana finishes its season with 21 wins, the second straight season the team has reached the 20-win plateau. Barring a selection into the National Invitation Tournament, senior Brian Qvale finishes his Montana career with 244 career blocks — a conference record. He blocked 92 shots this season, one short of Antoine "Slim" Millien's conference season record for Idaho State in the 2005 to 2006 season.
Northern Colorado will have to wait for its seeding in the NCAA Tournament. The Bears will see their next matchup this Sunday when the tournament brackets are announced.