NAU and Southern Utah University were the main attraction in the Skydome today. Coming off an extremely tough loss Thursday, NAU hoped to perform better in front of their home crowd, which is exactly what they did winning 82-69.
NAU and SUU were at each other's throats and playing very physical for much of the first half. Each team desperately wanted to get some sort of a lead, but that’s not the way it went. There were 8 ties and 15 lead changes, with the biggest point differential being 3. Now, it might be safe to assume that both these teams were pretty evenly matched in most aspects of the game, but that wasn't the case.
Each team dominated a certain facet of the game in the half. NAU was exceptionally good at taking care of the ball with only 1 turnover in the first half, as well as getting to the line and capitalizing with 10-12 free throws. Where they lacked, SUU shined, especially with their defense in the paint. 22 out of 35 points for SUU came from the interior, where the Lumberjacks were being manipulated by the Thunderbirds, who proved to be the better team in the paint. NAU senior forward Brooks DeBisschop was a glimmer of hope in the fight down low by scoring 8 out of the 10 NAU points in the paint. SUU also dominated field goal percentage in the half, shooting 14-27 (51%), while NAU shot 10-27 (37%). If it wasn’t for NAU’s good free-throw shooting, the half could’ve been considerably lopsided.
While the first half was a back-and-forth battle, where both teams excelled in some areas and lacked in others, that wasn’t the case for NAU in the second. NAU came out in a 2-3 zone that wasn’t particularly effective, as SUU scored easily on that defense, but NAU head coach Shane Burcar made an adjustment early in the half and switched to a man defense that worked in their favor.
“We play man to man 98% of the time,” Burcar said, “so [we played] man-to-man, and I thought when we did that it slowed them down a bit and we got out in transition.”
This defensive switch disrupted the Thunderbirds, and it showed on the stats. SUU only attempted 20 shots in the half and made only 9 of them, which is abysmal compared to NAU, who shot 15-30 in the half. The Lumberjacks accelerated offensively in the second, in most part, because of two players, DeBisschop and junior guard Cameron Shelton. These two showed great chemistry on the floor, through various pick and rolls and collapsing the defense inside and finding each other, and this role between center and point guard is something that means a lot to this team.
“Point guard and center always gotta have a good relationship, because we’re playing off each other all the time,” DeBisschop said.
DeBisschop had formattable competition tonight with the Thunderbirds' size and them being one of the best defensive teams in the conference, but he excelled, and in fact, he had a double-double and a career-high in points with 21. Overall, the Lumberjacks had a change of intensity in the second half, displaying a high level of effort.
“There’s no substitute for effort," Shelton said.
Looking forward, the Lumberjacks goes on a road stretch against the University of Idaho and Eastern Washington University, where the players and coach agreed that they hope to display this type of performance moving on.