After a lengthy road trip, which included visits to Gonzaga University, two games in two days in Colorado and a doubleheader in Idaho, the NAU men’s basketball team returned to Flagstaff in hopes to extend their win streak to three games.
They came into Thursday evening’s matchup against Idaho State University 2-1 in Big Sky Conference play after sweeping their two meetings with the University of Idaho.
The Lumberjacks hit from beyond the arc at a steady rate last weekend, shooting 52.8%.
Redshirt junior guard Luke Avdalovic and redshirt sophomore forward Keith Haymon carried NAU’s three-point success as they combined to shoot 11/23 against the Vandals.
However, the Lumberjacks faced adversity early against Idaho State as Avdalovic took a hard fall, hitting his face in the process. He exited the game and did not return. Head coach Shane Burcar said Avdalovic suffered a concussion and will have to undergo the seven-day concussion protocol, meaning he will miss Saturday’s game and the first meeting with the University of Montana next Thursday.
Down 5-0 and without Avdalovic, it looked as though NAU had an uphill battle ahead against a physical Bengals team, but the Lumberjacks’ shooting from beyond the arc continued to prosper. Haymon led the way with two three-pointers in the first 10 minutes, masking the team’s lack of success.
It wasn’t just the shooting that stood out for the Lumberjacks. Their defense also improved dramatically from their last home game against Eastern Washington University. NAU was out-rebounded in that meeting 42-26 and allowed the Eagles to score at will in the paint.
Against Idaho State, redshirt freshman forward Carson Towt and redshirt junior Nik Mains contained the paint significantly better, while sophomore guard Isaiah Lewis locked down the perimeter, leading the Bengals to only shoot 2/13 from the three-point range in the first half.
The second half went entirely in favor of Idaho State as the Lumberjacks went on a string of empty possessions and missed shots, while the Bengals capitalized on the boards to take the lead back from NAU.
For a five-minute stretch, beginning at the 15-minute mark, the Bengals opened up a 12-0 scoring run, which was catapulted by a pair of three-pointers from junior guard Robert Ford III. During this stretch, Idaho State out-rebounded NAU 12-3.
“Sometimes you gotta get on them a little bit,” Burcar said. “It’s a simple job. You gotta go screen them out and unfortunately, the guys who aren’t screening out for us are the ones that can score the ball.”
The Lumberjacks kept it close for the remainder of the game, but the Bengals kept them at bay thanks to a multitude of fouls on NAU. The Lumberjacks had 16 in the second half, which included Towt fouling out around the five-minute mark.
With 1:11 left in the game, junior guard Cameron Shelton scored a layup to cut Idaho State’s deficit to just one, but on the next two offensive possessions, Shelton turned the ball over and forced a close-range shot to allow the Bengals to extend their lead to seven, putting the game out of reach for NAU.
“I know he [Shelton] wants to win in the worst way,” Burcar said. “Cam has the green light. He tries to do too much in a good way.”
Shelton ended the night with 24 points on 7-of-19 shooting, extending his 20+-point streak to seven games.
NAU is now 3-7 overall and 2-2 in conference play. They will play Idaho State again inside the Rolle Activity Center on Saturday.
NAU women come just short of road win, 70-66
The NAU women’s basketball traveled north to Pocatello, Idaho after splitting their doubleheader with the University of Idaho in Flagstaff.
Idaho State women’s basketball entered Thursday evening with a record of 6-1 and an unbeaten record in the Big Sky through four games. The Lumberjacks gave the Bengals their toughest contest of the season as it was Idaho State’s first win in single digits.
The game was a back-and-forth affair with neither team having room to breathe. The biggest lead came late in the second quarter when Idaho State went up by 10. NAU cut that lead to two by halftime.
From there, the biggest lead the Bengals took was a five-point lead at multiple points, but the Lumberjacks scored whenever Idaho State did.
After a three-pointer from senior guard Miki’ala Maio with 1:20 left, Idaho State responded with a killer three from redshirt senior guard Dora Goles, who capped a team-high 17-point performance.
Senior guard JJ Nakai hit back-to-back three’s to keep the Lumberjacks’ hopes alive and give them a chance to tie or win the game after Goles missed a free throw with eight seconds left.
NAU inbounded the ball to redshirt senior Jacey Bailey, who was in the paint. She attempted a hook shot to tie the game, but was short and Idaho State grabbed the rebound and hit two free throws to secure the victory.
The Lumberjacks have now dropped two-straight games and fall to a 5-4 overall record with a 3-2 Big Sky record. They will look to split the series with Idaho State on Saturday.