A very tense and turbulent final two minutes showed the true grit of both the NAU Lumberjacks and the University of Texas - Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) Vaqueros. The Vaqueros were able to vanquish the Lumberjacks after a late layup from freshman forward Donte Houston Jr. to win 82-80.
Only two days after playing each other in the South Padre Island Battle of the Beach — NAU winning 89-87— the Lumberjacks and Vaqueros went at it again, this time in Flagstaff’s Rolle Activity Center.
NAU, previously undefeated at home, looked to continue that streak against a UTRGV team that was riddled with injuries, once again, only having seven active players, but the more resilient Vaqueros were able to slow the game down and bully the Lumberjacks in the paint.
The paint was something NAU seemed to stray from this game, as only 21 shots came from inside the 3 point arc.
As for the three-pointers, the Lumberjacks shot 13-40 on the game. Their leading shooters, redshirt junior forward Nik Mains, sophomore guard Jalen Cone, and redshirt sophomore forward Keith Haymon each had four three-pointers apiece.
The Vaqueros had a much more balanced offensive attack, with four of their seven players tallying double digits in points. This balanced attack helped UTRGV to a 52-40 advantage at the half.
NAU head coach Shane Burcar touched on the overall impact the 12-point advantage had on the rest of the game.
“At the end of the day, the first half is where you lose the game,” Burcar said.
At the start of the second half, however, it looked as if the Lumberjacks would come back and take control of the game. This is where the three-point shooting struggles started to set in for NAU.
NAU went on an early 6-0 run to halve the lead. This run was capitalized by an emphatic dunk by redshirt freshman forward Carson Towt.
The lead would continue to shrink and eventually became a one or two-point game, leading into the final three minutes.
The main catalyst behind NAU’s comeback was Cone, who had yet another showcase night, dropping a career-best 29 points on 10-21 shooting, along with three rebounds and two assists.
Coach Burcar harkened Cone’s success to the team around him.
“If he didn’t have good players around him he couldn't do what he is doing right now,” Burcar said.
Down the stretch, NAU was unable to stop the attack the Vaqueros brought — which was ultimately its downfall.
The Lumberjacks are now 3-3 on the season and will play Cal State Fullerton in the Rolle Activity Center on Wednesday at 6 p.m. UTRGV, now 3-2 as well, will play Cal State Fullerton next, also in Rolle Activity Center Tuesday at 7 p.m.