Could one look at how the NAU men’s basketball team played in the first half and say, “Well, they didn’t have redshirt junior guard Luke Avdalovic?” Sure, but the Lumberjacks still gave Idaho State University a fight to the finish with Avdalovic out in Thursday’s contest.
The Saturday matinee affair was one of NAU’s worst 20-minute performances of the season with sluggish play, porous defense and a frustrated head coach.
“I’m sick and tired of players not doing their job,” NAU head coach Shane Burcar said. “This is all on me, but at the same time, these are young men not following the game plan. This isn’t personal. This is a matter of fact.”
Signs for what was to come in the first half from the Lumberjacks Saturday appeared immediately as Burcar implemented a tall lineup with sophomore forward Ajang Aguek and redshirt sophomore forward Keith Haymon earning their first starts of the 2021 season. However, the abundance of height didn’t do anything for NAU as Idaho State quickly went up 6-0.
Burcar immediately went to the bench and inserted redshirt junior guard Jay Green and sophomore guard Isaiah Lewis. The Lumberjacks’ urgency didn’t change and Burcar went with multiple rotations throughout the first half, spotlighted by two freshmen in guard Carter Mahaney and forward Wynton Brown.
Brown provided the energy severely lacking from NAU early on with three offensive rebounds and multiple putbacks to score his first field goals with the team.
Meanwhile, the production wasn’t there from NAU’s leading scorer in junior guard Cameron Shelton. His first points of the game weren't scored until the 7:50 mark of the half.
Shelton eventually got a rhythm going and shot 3-of-6 to close the half, but the rest of the team only shot a combined 4-of-15.
NAU’s defense never showed up in the first 20 minutes as they allowed the Bengals to shoot at a ridiculous 67% clip and allowed Idaho State to make six of their nine three-point attempts. Idaho State also scored 15 points off of 11 NAU turnovers and had 24 points in the paint.
Similar to what Idaho State did to NAU Thursday evening, the Lumberjacks came out with a new energy and assertiveness. This was catalyzed by redshirt freshman forward Carson Towt, who committed a foul to halt a dunk attempt from the Bengals.
What was a 21-point lead to start the half quickly fell to 13 as Shelton took control of the offense and Idaho State couldn’t hit a three-pointer.
“We were picking away every media timeout,” Burcar said. “I didn’t raise my voice. I was just being honest with them [during halftime]. If we have the right people in the locker room who are truly competitive, I know that would’ve bothered me if my coach was talking like that.”
Brown took his first-half minutes and turned the second half into his breakout performance of the season. He was competitive on the boards and completed a 24-minute showing with 15 points and six rebounds.
“I thought he played outstanding,” Burcar said. “He was a factor for us defensively and on the offensive glass. I told him last night that we were gonna put him into the fire and go out there and compete, and he did a good job.”
The effort from NAU eventually cut Idaho State’s lead to one possession with under two minutes left, but junior guard Austin Smellie capped a 24-point performance with back-to-back 3-pointers to put a dagger in the Lumberjacks’ rallying efforts.
Shelton finished with a 28-point game on 11-of-22 shooting — his eighth-straight game of 20 points or more.
The NAU men fall to 3-8 on the season, which includes an 0-4 record at home and a 2-3 conference record.
They will head to the University of Montana next Thursday to begin a two-game series with the 5-6 Grizzlies.
NAU women slump defensively in second loss to Idaho State
Losing to the Idaho State women’s basketball is nothing to hang your head over. After Saturday’s win over the NAU women to complete the series sweep, the Bengals improved to 8-1 on the season and 6-0 in Big Sky play. Their only single-digit win came against the Lumberjacks Thursday evening.
Similar to the NAU men, the NAU women will have to clean up their defense if they want a shot at winning the conference tournament in March.
The Lumberjacks surrendered 46 points to Idaho State in the first half, allowing the team to shoot a ludicrous 69% from the field.
By halftime, a potential rout was on the way as NAU only made four of their 20 shots in the second quarter.
Just like the men, NAU fought as hard as they could to make a comeback and win the game.
They were able to cut the Bengals’ lead to as little as five points, but Idaho State’s skill and size was too much for NAU to overcome, specifically from redshirt sophomore guard Diaba Konate, who finished the game with 20 points and nine rebounds. In total, five Idaho State women finished with double-digit points.
Senior guard JJ Nakai led NAU with 14 points, but struggled to find consistent success as she only shot 25% from the field on 16 attempts.
The Lumberjacks fall to an even 5-5 overall record and 3-3 Big Sky record this season. The team will return home on Thursday for a series against the University of Montana.