SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. – Despite being down just two points at halftime, the Northern Arizona men's basketball team suffered its second consecutive loss to open the season on day two of the 2011 Hilltop Challenge, 69-50 at the hands of the host school San Francisco. The Lumberjacks shot just 24.1 percent from the field compared to the Dons' 47.8 percent and committed 18 fouls resulting in 24 USF free throw attempts in the deciding second half.
"They shot way too many free throws in the second half and that doomed us," said head coach Mike Adras. "I thought we played hard, especially in the first half. The guys were competing, really working hard and making plays. Hopefully we can build on some of those positive things that happened for us."
The Dons started the game with a 9-2 run in the first four and a half minutes, but the first half was otherwise very closely contested. The Lumberjacks used a 11-3 run to gain their first lead at 13-12 and led by as many as four points before heading into halftime down 28-26.
A layup by senior forward Durrell Norman off an assist by senior guard Stallon Saldivar on the second half's opening possession briefly tied the game, only for San Francisco's Angelo Caloiaro to nail a three-pointer on the very next possession. That basket gave the Dons the lead and they never looked back, stretching it out to as many as 22 points before freshman guard Danny Cheek connected on his third three-pointer of the second half with just under a minute to go in the game to provide the final score.
After shooting 50 percent from the field in the first half, the Lumberjacks finished at 35.8 percent due to their second half struggles. They were narrowly outrebounded by the Dons 36-33 and turned the ball over 20 times, but only six came in the final 20 minutes. The biggest difference came at the free-throw line, where the Dons were 21-36 and the Lumberjacks were just 7-9. The Lumberjacks did not have a free-throw attempt in the first half.
Freshman guard Colin Gruber led the Lumberjacks with 14 points on 4-6 shooting and 2-3 from three-point range. Cheek came off the bench to score 13 points in just 15 minutes of play, including 3-5 from behind the arc. Gruber and Cheek accounted for all five of the Lumberjacks' three-point baskets in the game. Saldivar and freshman forward Ephraim Ekanem each had a team-high six rebounds.
"The tough part of this tournament is we don't get to watch ourselves to figure out what we need to do to improve," Adras said. "But we are getting game experience, and it looked that way. Danny Cheek and Colin Gruber played much better tonight than they did last night. We don't want to leave San Francisco 0-3, and hopefully the guys will be able to step up their play and perform even better tomorrow afternoon."
The Lumberjacks play North Dakota State in the final of three games in three days at the Hilltop Challenge tomorrow at 2 p.m. The broadcast can be heard here on 105.1 The Big Talker beginning with a pregame show at 1:30 p.m.