After an array of postponements and a positive COVID-19 case that delayed the season opener against the University of Arizona, the NAU men’s basketball team finally began their 2020-21 campaign against their in-state rival Monday evening.
For four of the last six years, the McKale Memorial Center in Tucson has been destitute land for the Lumberjacks as the closest they could hold a game against the Wildcats came in 2019 when they lost by 39.
Similar to previous years, the Lumberjacks suffered their early-season beatdown at the hands of the Wildcats as they were defeated 96-53. Former NAU head coach Jack Murphy watched from the sidelines as an Arizona assistant coach for a second-straight year.
The first half was a display of rust and confusion for the Lumberjacks as they displayed little to no movement offensively and missed shots led to quick transition baskets for Arizona. NAU’s defense also saw no production as they allowed Arizona to shoot 78.3% from the field.
The standout for Arizona was redshirt junior guard Jemarl Baker Jr., who was a perfect 8-for-8 in the first half, including five 3-pointers.
Redshirt sophomore forward Jordan Brown made a mockery of NAU’s lackadaisical interior defense as he bullied the Lumberjack bigs with seven points and six rebounds. Freshman guard Dalen Terry and 7-foot sophomore center Christian Koloko pushed NAU away from driving the ball to the rim as they combined for three blocks in the half.
More Wildcat dominance continued in the second half as they extended their lead to over 30 and later 40.
Baker Jr. was perfect from the field until he finally missed on his 10th field goal attempt. However, Arizona held possession and the ball came into the hands of Baker Jr. once again as he hit a 3-pointer on his 11th shot attempt, moving to a perfect 7-of-7. He finished 7-of-8 from beyond the arc at the conclusion. Baker Jr. finished with a career-high 33 points.
NAU’s offensive production only came from junior guard Cameron Shelton and redshirt junior guard Luke Avdalovic. Shelton handled the ball for a majority of the Lumberjacks’ possessions, and when the offense couldn’t find success on their plan A set play, he transitioned to isolation ball and drove to the basket. Shelton finished the game with 15 points at a 33% shooting clip. Due to the lack of movement offensively, Avdalovic wasn’t able to flash his 41% shooting percentage from beyond the arc last year, as he only made three of his eight attempts.
Avdalovic and Shelton were responsible for 58% of NAU’s points as they combined for 31.
The Lumberjacks finished the game shooting 31% from the field as a team and only made five of their 20 3-point attempts.
NAU will look to find some mojo on Thursday as they take on the University of California, Riverside Thursday night at Rolle Activity Center.