Coming off their first win of the season against the University of Denver, NAU men’s basketball traveled to Spokane, Washington for a meeting with then nation’s No. 1-ranked team, Gonzaga University.
The college basketball world expected an embarrassment of a matchup as the Bulldogs were a 39.5-point favorite over the Lumberjacks, according to FanDuel Sportsbook. Who could blame them? NAU, sitting at a 1-5 record coming into Monday evening’s matchup, had to take on some of the best players in the nation such as senior forward Corey Kispert and sophomore forward Drew Timme. Freshman guard Jalen Suggs did not participate due to a leg injury.
The Lumberjacks were overpowered in the first half. They lacked the height, strength, and athleticism to compete with the best team in collegiate hoops. Gonzaga hit a plethora of threes and dominated on the inside, outrebounding NAU by a double-digit margin.
After 20 minutes, the Lumberjacks trailed 51-23. Redshirt junior guard Jay Green was the only NAU player to make noise in the first half by scoring 10 points.
The first five minutes of the second half looked as though the Zags would turn the game into an embarrassment as they led 60-25, but head coach Mark Few chose to throw a young bench onto the court and NAU used it to their advantage.
Junior guard Cameron Shelton was initially neutralized by Gonzaga’s defense, but the Big Sky Preseason All-Conference selection dominated in the latter stages of the second half to finish the game with 20 points and cut the Bulldogs’ lead to as low as 23. It was the fourth-consecutive game Shelton scored 20 or more points.
NAU’s offense showed confidence late in the game as the Lumberjacks were quick in transition, moved the ball with precision and even drew 12 fouls, getting to the free throw line at a consistent rate.
Gonzaga was able to finish the game with a 30-point lead, but NAU played their best basketball to show positive signs moving back into conference play.
The Lumberjacks are now 1-6 on the season and will transition fully into Big Sky competition on New Year’s Eve against the University of Idaho.