Lumberjacks push Ducks late, fall short in season opener
By Cody Bashore
With just under eight minutes remaining against the University of Oregon, freshman guard Dewayne Russell flashed some of the talent fans may see in the future.
Trailing the Ducks by eight, Russell quickly made the game interesting by scoring seven points and assisting on 3-pointers by senior guard Michael Dunn and freshman wing Blake Hamilton in just two minutes to take a one point lead.
But Oregon responded with a 13-0 run to regain control of the game, leading to an 83-73 final and handing the Lumberjacks a loss in their season opener.
“I get a little more confidence when I start to make things happen,” Russell said. “I just try to feed off of that and keep going.”
While they took the loss, to take a lead late on the road against a Pac-12 opponent provided the Lumberjacks with confidence going forward.
“It got us hyped, we were really thinking we were going to upset them. Things just didn’t go the way we wanted them to go,” Russell said. “We know that we can do great things.”
Russell finished with a team-high 15 points on 6-of-12 shooting, including 3-of-5 from three. He had struggled to open the game as he shot 0-of-2 from the field and turned over the ball three times in the first half.
However, the freshman said NAU’s seniors helped settle him down in his first career college game.
“My seniors just calmed me down and said I’m just forcing things a little too much. Just [be] calm and play, let the game come to me so that’s just what I did. “
One of those seniors said this kind of play from Russell could be expected despite him being in his freshman year.
“We expect Dewayne to come in and make plays, whether that’s distributing the ball or making shots himself and he did that,” said Dunn, who finished with 13 points and five rebounds.
After a solid start, hitting 3-of-5 from the line, Dunn struggled in the second half and ended the game 4-of-13.
“Like myself, I wasn’t hitting a couple jump shots and he comes in and gets seven straight, that’s huge for us and got us back in the game,” Dunn said of Russell’s play.
The Lumberjacks were severely handicapped by the Ducks’ huge advantage at the free-throw line. Oregon finished 22-of-32 from the line, while NAU managed a mere 5-of-10.
“Obviously we have to do a better job at the line, we have to make some of those free throws,” said head coach Jack Murphy.
A result of the high volume of foul shots for the Ducks meant some foul trouble for the Lumberjacks, specifically in the frontcourt. Freshman Jordan Martin, sophomore Gaellen Bewernick and senior Ephraim Ekanem all ended the half with two fouls and seven minutes played.
For the game, the Lumberjacks were called for 24 fouls to 11 for the Ducks, only four of which came in the second half.
Foul trouble also pushed NAU into a four-guard lineup highlighted by a single big man. Murphy said this could be something seen going forward, but would be a game-to-game occurrence.
“Obviously I think our talent and experience in a large measure is in the perimeter,” Murphy said. “But if Gaellen Bewernick and Jordan Martin aren’t in foul trouble, they are probably in the game.”
NAU now travels to the No. 19 ranked University of Las Vegas, Nevada Running Rebels for a game Monday night.