The Lumberjacks hosted the Eastern Washington Eagles in the Walkup Skydome for the final time this season Saturday. Although the Eagles were about to complete the upset, NAU closed the door and got the win 63-58.
Both teams shot an abysmal field goal percentage in the first half, EWU shot 29 percent from the floor, and NAU barely edged them out with 32 percent.
The first quarter was something that would put a strain on any basketball fan’s eyes. NAU shot under 20 percent and only scored 6 points compared to EWU’s 12. This kind of offensive productivity is unusual to see from NAU, but adjustments were made heading into the second quarter.
EWU’s 2-3 defense was suffocating NAU in the first, but it found a way to feed the ball inside and dominate the paint and outscored them 16-4. Players like junior forward Khiarica Rasheed and senior forward Peyton Carroll were huge factors in the dominant interior play of NAU in the second quarter. It’s because of this that NAU was able to dig itself out of a hole and gain a six-point lead heading into the second half.
Coming into the second half, NAU continued the momentum it built up at the end of the first, and then amped it up even more. The three-point shot finally came into fruition, and the team started playing offensively while retaining the defensive status it had in the first. Rasheed was the main catalyst for this offensive movement in the third. She came out aggressive, and ready to score by any means possible, and the defense for EWU didn’t have much of an answer.
Rasheed pulled out something not typically in her arsenal, the 3-point shot, she made two to start the third, and dominated in the post the rest of the way, while sprinkling in some mid-rangers while she was at it.
“I just let it fly,” Rasheed said, “I’ve been trying to be more aggressive, even though [I] scored a lot, I passed up certain shots I could have taken ... but it’s all about being aggressive.”
Heading into the fourth quarter, NAU had a 16 point lead, however, it started to play down to the competition, and it allowed EWU to make a resurgence. NAU returned to how it was playing in the first quarter, sloppy ball movement, poor execution and unnecessary fouls throughout. EWU took the 16 point deficit and closed the gap to just a 5 point lead for NAU, but in the end, it was too little too late as NAU won 63-58.
This was far from a perfect game for NAU, and Coach Loree Payne expressed concerns about how her team played to the competition level.
“I think it’s just a lack of maturity and mindset,” Payne said, “[We need to] embrace the fact that we are successful, and that’s a constant struggle ... and we need to embrace it, rather than play tight because of it.”
Coming up, NAU heads on the road to take on Montana State University Feb. 27. Coach Payne said that her team needs to play sharper, and more well rounded to be successful in this quick road stretch.