Men’s hoops loses sixth straight, falls to Weber
Playing the lone undefeated team in the conference in their home gym is never an easy task, and the NAU men’s basketball team found that out the hard way Thursday night.
Against a Top-15 team in Weber State (WSU), the Lumberjacks fell 81-67 to the conference leaders, losing their sixth straight game — all in Big Sky Conference play — and falling further down in the BSC standings.
“Very pleased and happy with our effort tonight,” said interim head coach Dave Brown. “More importantly, they are beginning to believe and get together. We gave them a good run tonight.”
Playing without leading scorer and freshman guard James Douglas, who was ruled out due to an illness and spent the game at the team hotel, the Jacks hung around early with one of the nation’s best mid-major squads. 10 first half points from junior forward Ephraim Ekanem allowed the blue and gold to stay within striking distance. The NAU defense also held NBA prospect and probable BSC Player of the Year Damian Lillard to just five points in the first 20 minutes. Despite the surprising totals from each player, the Jacks were down 46-37 at halftime due to 16 points from the Wildcats’ Kyle Tresnak.
“I felt like scoring tonight, Ekanem said. “Teammates were giving me the ball and were playing really well.”
However, the Wildcats would pull away early in the second half, using an 11-3 run to stretch their advantage to 57-40. The Jacks would only get as close as 12 points at 60-48 before the Wildcats shut them down the rest of the way, getting a double-digit point total from Lillard in the second half to fully dismiss the Jacks.
“We feel like we got better tonight,” said sophomore guard Michael Dunn. “We executed but those guys are good, give them credit. Our effort was good but we just didn’t make enough plays.”
The Jacks received balanced scoring from most of the line-up, Dunn and Ekanem, who finished with 13 and 12 points, respectively. Junior guard Gabe Rogers also wound up with 13 points while junior point guard Stallon Saldivar chipped in six points and seven assists.
Brown made sure to take note of Dunn’s contributions, whose point total included a 3-of-5 mark from 3-point range as well as playing hard defense.
“You can see his confidence growing and he’s really becoming a solid player at both ends,” Brown said of his guard. “Give Mike Dunn a lot of credit. What a nice game he played tonight.”
Tresnak’s big first half culminated in 22 points total on the night, relieving the pressure off Lillard and Scott Bamforth, who the Jacks nearly took out of the game by utilizing a defense designed to shut down WSU’s best players.
“The triangle-and-two defense we put in there for those two gunners worked very well,” Brown said. “But for some reason, we got out of context and tried to do more than we needed. That really hurt us down the stretch of the first half.”
The Jacks now continue their road trip Saturday night as they travel to Pocatello, Idaho to take on the Idaho State Bengals, looking to end their losing skid.
“The effort we displayed tonight gives us chances to win,” Dunn said. “We have to execute and stick to coach’s game plan.”