The men’s basketball team opened up their regular season with a 91-52 loss against No. 21 ranked UA. The Lumberjacks traveled down south to the McKale Memorial Center in Tucson to begin a Big Sky versus Pac-12 matchup.
The youthful front-court led the NAU team in scoring. Sophomore guard Cameron Shelton led the Lumberjacks with 17 points. True freshman Isaiah Lewis dropped 13 points and snatched 6 rebounds in his first collegiate basketball game.
Interim head coach Shane Burcar noticed that playing against a Pac-12 opponent on the road was not too big a stage for Lewis.
“I liked how he stepped up and he played and didn’t back down,” Burcar said. “One of the greatest kids we have.”
Like NAU, UA was led by its youth. Freshman forward Zeke Nnaji had an efficient 20 points going 9-12 from the field. Freshman guard Josh Green scored 10 points and led the Wildcats with 6 rebounds.
NAU was smothered by the bigger UA defenders whenever players drove inside. The length and size of the Wildcats limited points inside the paint caused NAU to have 19 turnovers.
“Their lane bothered us,” Burcar said.
NAU will watch all 19 turnovers on film and Burcar will break down every one to his team so they can improve in future games.
UA’s defense held NAU to shooting 31.5% from the field. The shooting struggles carried over to the charity stripe as the Lumberjacks shot 70.6%.
The 39-point loss for NAU is not how Burcar wanted to open up the season.
“I think the scoreboard is very disappointing,” Burcar said.
Burcar is focused on the big picture, which is what he described to be the team moving forward and getting better. He said that even if they won the game, that would not be their end goal.
Despite the loss, the Lumberjacks had come into the game strong.
“I thought we came out with great energy and we ended with good energy,” Burcar said.
NAU put up a strong fight throughout the first 10 minutes in the first half. The game was going back-and-forth between both teams.
Lewis felt a great environment during his first collegiate basketball game.
“It was a great atmosphere, my teammates talk[ed] to me the entire time,” Lewis said. “It was a great introduction to college basketball.”
After a close opening 10 minutes, UA reminded NAU why it is ranked No. 21/17. UA did not let the Lumberjacks score by going on a 6-0 and 7-0 run late in the first half. The Wildcats finished off the last 4:42 on an 11-2 run to go into halftime.
The home fan section, ZonaZoo, made its presence felt early. Loud count downs from 10 when the shot clock read 15 were heard throughout the game. This was unsuccessful in its first attempt, but during the second the fan section forced Shelton to shoot with four seconds left on the actual shot clock. The crowd would erupt after their team made three-pointers and easy layups.
As with ZonaZoo, former NAU head coach and current UA associate head coach, Jack Murphy, could be heard yelling at his new Wildcat team.
Murphy referred to the Lumberjacks by their first names instead of their numbers. He would tell the Wildcats to “get on Ted” and “Ted is a shooter.” Senior guard Ted McCree got off to a hot start hitting his first two shots beyond the arc.
The Lumberjacks host SAGU American Indian College for their home opener Nov. 15 in the Rolle Activity Center.