NAU saw its season come to a close in the quarterfinals of the Big Sky Conference Men’s Basketball Tournament in Boise, Idaho in a 66-60 loss to the Eastern Washington Eagles. Despite having plenty of opportunities, the Lumberjacks were unable to pull closer than six points throughout the second half.
The Lumberjacks met with the Eagles at 6 p.m. Thursday night. The game was originally scheduled for 5 p.m., but due to the previous game between No. 4 Idaho State and No. 5 Montana State running long, the NAU-Eastern Washington affair was pushed back. The Lumberjacks carried momentum as they had snapped a four-game losing streak against the Portland State Vikings a day earlier, but the team had a tough test against the Eagles who were ranked second in the Big Sky heading into the matchup. The Lumberjacks lost the previous meeting with the Eagles in December 2020 by 16 points.
A 3-pointer from redshirt junior guard Luke Avdalovic followed by a jumper from redshirt sophomore forward Keith Haymon would set up a five-point Lumberjack lead, but unlike Portland State, the Eagles quickly fought back to tie the game at 12. The Eagles would find their rhythm about halfway through the half, scoring on eight of nine possessions at one point, but the Lumberjacks managed to keep the game close.
The Eagles’ 3-point game caught fire after a timeout, while NAU would go cold from the floor. The Eagles’ deep shooting would lead them on an 11-0 run, hitting three from beyond the arc during that span. Redshirt junior forward Nik Mains was the catalyst as the Lumberjacks began to fight back, scoring back-to-back buckets over Kim Aiken Jr., Eastern Washington redshirt junior forward and Big Sky Conference Defensive Player of the Year, sparking an 8-0 run. The Lumberjacks were within striking distance at the end of the half, trailing 37-30.
The two teams traded buckets to open the second half. The Lumberjacks did a good job early in the second half of drawing Big Sky Conference MVP Tanner Groves out of the paint, but Eastern Washington’s offense kept pace. The Lumberjacks could not cut the lead to less than seven and never fully closed the gap. A late Mains 3-pointer gave the Lumberjacks one last shred of hope, but Eastern Washington was able to close out the game, winning by six.
After NAU’s first season winning a postseason game since 2015, head coach Shane Burcar spoke on what postseason experience means for this young roster.
“I think the biggest thing we have here is there is more than hope now,” Burcar said. “There has been some production, there has been a first-round win for the first time since 2015.”
The Big Sky tourney will continue with the championship game played March 13 at 6 p.m. on ESPNU.