Jacks fail to complete rally, downed by Bobcats
Coming off the heels of an unpleasant and embarrassing loss to Montana, the NAU men’s basketball team lost its fifth straight game 74-72 to the visiting Montana State (MSU) Bobcats, despite a double-digit rally in the second half.
Freshman guard James Douglas had 13 points to lead NAU, while senior forward Norman and junior forward each chipped in 10. For the night, the Jacks shot 41 percent from the field in a game eerily similar to what happened two nights earlier against the Grizzlies.
“We’re still struggling with our offensive timing, shots aren’t going in,” said interim head coach Dave Brown. “But I have great respect for our kids after that 14-point deficit and hopefully that will have a positive spin.”
Conversely, MSU started off hot from the floor, making 60 percent of their first half attempts, including a 6-of-9 mark from distance, building a 41-27 lead at the break. However, the second half was a much different story as NAU broke out an intense, turnover-inducing full court press, attempting to up the tempo and get the game flowing in their favor.
“Coach Brown loves the press,” said sophomore guard Michael Dunn. “He says in practice everyday ‘if you don’t want to press, then leave’. We work on it a lot and as long as we bring intensity and energy, our press will be good.
The adjustment seemed to work, as the Jacks slowly clawed back into the contest, getting big contributions from Douglas and junior center Ben Olayinka. The transfer finished with seven points and a couple blocks, much of them coming during a key stretch midway through the half. NAU knotted it up at 68 with 4:29 to go when Douglas drained two free throws. A couple of possessions later, the Jacks took the lead at 72-70 when junior point guard Stallon Saldivar sank two of his own from the charity stripe. It was their first lead since they held a 4-2 advantage in the game’s early stages.
However, MSU would rattle off the game’s final four points, all from Xavier Blount, who finished with 23 points to lead all scorers. NAU had a chance to send the game into overtime or get the win, but Saldivar’s desperation 3-pointer clanked off the rim as time expired.
“We weren’t hanging our heads and always stayed positive,” said senior forward Durrell Norman. “We picked up our intensity and built some confidence.”
Despite finishing ahead of the Bobcats in many statistical categories, including free throw percentage, points off turnovers and bench production, the Lumberjacks can look to their 3-point percentage as the main cause for the loss. NAU was only able to connect on 3-of-15 attempts from beyond the arc, including an 0-for-5 mark from junior guard Gabe Rogers, who continues to struggle after coming back from a shoulder injury.
After the game against UM, interim head coach Dave Brown made it clear that a change in attitude was needed, and believed his team responded well.
“With me, attitude is everything,” Brown said. “We’re just trying to stay positive. They did what we asked them to do.”
The loss drops the Jacks to 1-5 in conference play and 5-13 overall, as the blue and gold now travel to Big Sky leader and undefeated Weber State on Jan. 19.
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