NAU men back to .500 with 74-64 win over Cal State Bakersfield

Photo courtesy of NAU Athletics

“When they were throwing punches, we threw haymakers right back,” Jalen Cone said. 

There appears to be a new energy within the NAU men’s basketball program. 

The Lumberjacks played a physical game with Cal State Bakersfield. There were a combined 21 fouls in the first half and a pair of technical fouls were dished to both sides, but NAU overcame the length and physical play of the Roadrunners to nab a gritty 74-64 win. 

Sparking this newfound energy during the early portion of the season is sophomore guard Jalen Cone, who came to Flagstaff after playing two seasons at Virginia Tech. 

Cone led the win for the Lumberjacks as he tallied a game-high 18 points. 

Cone’s production sputtered out of the gate as he committed 14 combined turnovers in the games against Arizona and Washington, but once Cone was able to experience a game at the Rolle Activity Center, he found his comfort level. 

“Being in a point guard role is new for me,” Cone said. “I haven’t played point guard in two years, but thank God that I have a coach who has unconditional faith in me and allows me to grow in this role.” 

The first half saw Cone break out with the production expected as he tallied 13 points through the first 20 minutes. 

Complementing Cone’s high-octane scoring was the 3-point shooting as the Lumberjacks took 10 shots from beyond the arc in the first 10 minutes. However, NAU only hit three of their first 10, but the misses didn’t take the green light away and the Lumberjacks hit four more before the break. 

“We just tell them to not think about the misses,” Cone said. “When you catch that thing and you see daylight, let it go. I told Keith Haymon last game that I don’t care if there’s a guy in your face and breathing on you. You shoot it right in front of him.” 

Redshirt sophomore forward Keith Haymon and redshirt junior forward Nik Mains hit a combined four 3-pointers to stretch NAU’s lead to 44-28 by halftime. Another big contributor to the lead was the Lumberjacks’ perimeter defense as the team didn’t surrender a 3-pointer to CSUB. 

NAU’s interior play has shown massive strides from last year early in the season. It’s not just redshirt freshman forward Carson Towt showing a sense of assertiveness, but off the bench, redshirt sophomore forward Ezekiel Richards has been a viable sixth-man for the Lumberjacks. 

Richards drew a handful of fouls and made all six of his free throws in the first 20 minutes which brought his total to eight points before the teams entered the locker room. 

“Coach [Burcar] has been so uplifting for me,” Richards said. “He gives me a lot of confidence within myself to be able to play my game and that’s something I haven’t really been used to.” 

The 6’10” big finished the night with 11 points, which is the second-straight game Richards has reached double digits. 

CSUB outscored NAU in the second half, but it was the Lumberjacks’ efficiency that kept them out front. 

NAU had 13 fewer shot attempts than CSUB in the second half but made the most of their shots with a 45% shooting clip. 

Towt broke through in the final 20 minutes after missing a majority of the first half due to foul trouble. He had eight points and eight rebounds to hold down the fort for NAU in the post. 

Haymon and Mains each finished with 11 points to keep their hot streaks going from Monday’s offensive craze and the team shot a favorable 49% from the field. 

NAU outrebounded CSUB by five and nabbed 13 second-chance points to continue their positive strides under the rim. 

“We missed a bunch of free throws at the end and gave them a bunch of empty rebounds,” NAU men’s basketball head coach Shane Burcar said. “If we made more free throws, the plus-minus would’ve been greater.” 

There is no denying the Lumberjacks have talent. Burcar is allowing his players to play to their strengths and giving them the freedom to create their own offense. 

NAU swept the week at home to get to a 2-2 overall record and will head to Texas on Saturday, Nov. 20 in the South Padre Battle on the Beach where it will meet UT Rio Grande Valley (2-1). Next Monday, UTRGV will come to Flagstaff for an encore matchup against the Lumberjacks.

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