Shorthanded Lumberjacks exploited by nationally ranked Rebels
By Cody Bashore
Their second game in three days, a sold out Thomas and Mack Arena, a nationally ranked opponent and a short bench. With the deck stacked against the Lumberjacks in a matchup against the No. 18 University of Nevada, Las Vegas Runnin’ Rebels, the final result predictably ended with 92-54 Rebel victory on Nov. 12.
Already over-matched by the height and length of the Rebels in their sold out home-opener, injuries hindered the Lumberjacks ability to keep the game respectable.
“The problem was you’re putting guys in positions that haven’t played those positions all year long or know the plays in that spot,” said head coach Jack Murphy.
Sophomore forward Gaellan Bewernick sprained his left ankle against Oregon and did not play against the Rebels. Senior guard Stallon Saldivar tweaked his right hamstring in the morning’s shoot around and left after playing the game’s opening six minutes. Lastly, senior forward Ephraim Ekanem cut his left hand during the first half and did not return following halftime.
Bewernick’s injury specifically caused NAU to shuffle its lineup as 6-foot senior guard Michael Dunn started at the power forward position.
“Its just something I expected to do just being on the team that I am and not having too many big guys,” Dunn said. “I’ve adapted to it well. I consider myself a physical player… but it gets a little tough at times with the guys having five or six inches on you.”
Dunn’s time at the power forward position going forward is dependent on the extent of Bewernick’s, which is currently considered day-to-day.
“If it is any extended period of time, we’re going to have to probably come up with some different offenses for the small ball,” Murphy said. “Get guys, especially like Mike Dunn playing some [power forward], so he understands the positioning better.”
After starting a lineup feature four guards, the Lumberjacks fell down 21-7 through the games first 10 minutes. A small run, highlighted by a trio of threes for senior guard Gabe Rogers, pushed the score to 29-23 with NAU trailing.
But the Rebels responded by shutting the Lumberjacks out for the remaining 4:48 of the first half during a 16-0 run.
When it finally came to an end in the second half, the Rebels had pushed it to a 21-0 run before freshman guard Dewayne Russell broke it with a free throw. Russell, who earned his first collegiate start, finished with 16 points to lead NAU again.
“At the beginning it’s a big environment so I was a little jittery, but I kind of settled in in the second half,” Russell said.
Additionally, the freshman finished 9-of-9 from the free throw line in his 38 minutes of play.
“He [Saldivar] was telling me just to be prepared and make sure I was running the team as best as I can,” Russell said of the heavy work load.
Returning leading-scorer, senior guard Gabe Rogers, finished with 13 points, but it came on 4-of-21 shooting to continue his struggles after only scoring eight points in the opener against the University of Oregon.
The second half consisted of pure dominance by the Rebels, who easily controlled the remainder of the game, highlighted by freshman forward Anthony Bennett. Bennett, a McDonalds All-American and top power forward of the 2012 recruiting class, opened his college career with 22 points on 9-of-13 shooting and seven rebounds in only 20 minutes of play.