FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Trailing by 16 points with 10:44 left in the game, March Madness was about to become March Sadness for the Northern Arizona men's basketball team. But a furious comeback helped the Lumberjacks advance past Montana State 65-62 in the quarterfinals of the Banner Health Big Sky Conference Tournament Saturday night at the Rolle Activity Center.
"We looked like zombies out there playing basketball," said Head Coach Mike Adras. "When we woke up and got a couple steals they flinched and the crowd got on them. We snapped out of it and made plays."
The Lumberjacks forced eight Bobcat turnovers and finished the game on a 29-10 run to overcome a terrible shooting night in front of a boisterous crowd. NAU, the top shooting three-point team in the country, hit five three-pointers over the final 10 minutes including four by Eric Platt to post the comeback.
The Lumberjacks still trailed 55-45 with 6:18 left before a 6-0 spurt cut the lead to four points. Platt and Jones then hit three consecutive three-pointers to tie the game at 57. MSU's Bobby Howard put the Bobcats back by two with two free throws with 1:30 left, trying to finish off the upset bid.
"Eric Platt was phenomenal shooting the basketball," said Adras. "Cameron Jones was terrific leading the attack. I am talking about four seniors who didn't want their final game to be in front of that crowd. They stepped up and made plays."
Jones then hit a driving layup to tie the game at 59 with 1:13 left. After Erik Rush hit one at the line, Platt hit his fourth three-pointer to put NAU up for good, eventually sealing the game at the line with a free throw. MSU had a final attempt by Rush that was off the mark.
Platt finished with 20 points, going 5-for-9 from beyond the arc, with seven rebounds while Jones had 27 points. Shane Johannsen had eight points and 10 rebounds.
Senior DeAngelo Jones played a key role in the comeback, creating three steals during the comeback effort.
"We needed to change the momentum and thank goodness DeAngelo Jones did what I was thinking," said Adras. "The crowd snapped us out of the funk we were in. The ball was going off of guys hands, we were not taking good shots and it looked like we were half asleep out there."
Erik Rush led the Bobcats with 16 points and Bobby Howard had 13.
Montana State opened the game with an 8-0 run and led by five at the break. The Lumberjacks shot just 39 percent in the first half. Jones and Platt combined to score 20 of their 27 points in the first 20 minutes as NAU shot 39 percent.
The Bobcats took over after halftime. The Lumberjacks scored just six points in the first eight minutes of half, trailing by 16 at 49-33 with 11:19 left. Sophomore Gabe Rogers started the rally with a three-pointer, igniting the run that won the game.
NAU shot just 39.1 percent for the game, the second-worst shooting game of the season.
NAU advances to face No. 1 seed Northern Colorado on Tuesday in the second semifinal game at Butler-Hancock Sports Pavilion. No. 3 seed Weber State will play No. 2 Montana after advancing with a 79-70 victory over Eastern Washington in Saturday.
Both semifinal games will be televised by Altitude and will be available on Big Sky TV at www.bigskytv.org. Lumberjack fans can listen to Mitch Strohman's call courtside on the Lumberjack Radio Network on 105.1 FM The Big Talker and online at www.bigtalkerradio.com. Tipoff is scheduled for 8 p.m. with the winner advancing to the championship game on Wednesday on ESPN2.
Banner Health Big Sky Championship
Saturday, March 5
Quarterfinals (at No. 3 and No. 4 seeds)
No. 3 Weber State 79, No. 6 Eastern Washington 70 (At Ogden, Utah)
No. 4 Northern Arizona 65, No. 5 Montana State 62 (At Flagstaff, Ariz.
At Butler-Hancock Sports Pavilion
Tuesday, March 8 (at regular-season champ)
Semifinals (Televised by Altitude)
No. 2 Montana (20-9) vs. No. 3 Weber State (18-11), 5:30 p.m.
No. 1 Northern Colorado (19-10) vs. No. 4 Northern Arizona (19-11), 8 p.m.
Wednesday, March 9
Championship, 7 p.m. MST (ESPN2)
All times Mountain/Subject to Change