Lumberjack men falter in second half, losing streak now at ten
The NAU men’s basketball team has reached a new low this season.
By losing to the Eastern Washington (EWU) Eagles 74-68, the Lumberjacks have run their conference losing streak to 10 games, resetting the mark and most likely waving good-bye to their conference tournament hopes. NAU now sits at 1-10 in the conference, placing them in the proverbial cellar of the Big Sky standings.
“Losing is what it is,” said interim head coach Dave Brown. “We’re real proud of the effort they put forth. We broke down a little bit with some things in the second half and let things bother us. You can’t do that and you’ve got to stay focused.”
After Monday night’s loss to Northern Colorado, freshman guard James Douglas said “Eastern Washington better look out” and for the first couple minutes, it looked like the Jacks were going to make good on his word. NAU jumped out to a 15-6 lead early, looking for their spots and playing aggressively. Eventually, the Eagles fought back to tie it and the two teams traded the lead for the rest of the half. Junior forward Ephraim Ekanem gave the Jacks the halftime lead at 32-29 with a buzzer-beating dunk.
“First half we came out strong, holding them to 29 points,” said junior forward Ephraim Ekanem. “You’ve just got to keep on going.”
The start of the second half looked even more promising for the Jacks, as they pushed their advantage to 39-30 with just under 18 minutes to play. But from there, the Eagles slowly clawed back into the game, despite continually being whistled for fouls, sending the Jacks to the line. However, NAU failed to convert at the charity stripe when it mattered, making only 18 of 28 attempts and allowing the Eagles to hang around.
“Second half, it slowed down a little bit,” said senior forward Durrell Norman. “For us, I think we became a little frustrated and took us out of the game a bit. It kind of stopped us from breaking and that took away from our points and production.”
EWU took their first lead of the half at 57-54 with 8:43 to play and never relinquished it, extending it to as much as eight, but that was when the game was essentially over. NAU attempted a small comeback late, closing the gap to three with two minutes left, but that was as close as they got.
The game itself was a slowed down, exhausting affair as the teams combined for 46 fouls. NAU went into the double-bonus with 11:04 to play, but again could not convert the attempts it needed to snap their streak. However, when the Eagles forced the Jacks to commit their tenth foul of the half, they were able to ice the game at the stripe.
The big blow came when Ekanem, Norman and sophomore guard Michael Dunn all fouled out within six minutes, forcing Brown to go deep into his bench.
“We’ve got to be more responsible,” Ekanem said, who fouled out with 15 points and seven rebounds for his line. “We let our team down a little bit. That’s on us.”
It did not help any that the Jacks shot poorly from the floor in the second half and only made one 3-pointer the entire night. NAU shot 42 percent in the final 20 minutes and missed all of their attempts from distance, something that will need to be corrected soon if the Lumberjacks want to end their season on a strong note.
The Lumberjacks continue their home stand Saturday night when they take on the Portland State Vikings at 6:35 p.m. in the Rolle Activity Center.