FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The Northern Arizona men's basketball team returns to action after a eight-day layoff for the holidays with the start of Big Sky Conference play Thursday night at the Rolle Activity Center against Sacramento State. Tipoff is scheduled for 6:35 p.m.
Fans who contribute two packages of socks will be granted free admission to the game. The game can be heard on the Lumberjack Radio Network on 105.1 FM The Big Talker in Flagstaff, Prescott and Sedona and online via The Big Talker website and their mobile app. It will also be available online via Big Sky TV.
The Lumberjacks are coming off a 24-point loss at Sam Houston State three days after the upset at Arizona State in Tempe.
"It was a 10-day stretch that had its toll and we went all the way from Arizona State to Houston Texas," said Interim Head Coach Dave Brown. "We were ready to play but Sam Houston had 10 days to prepare for us. We just didn't compete and took us out of what we wanted to do."
The team returned to Flagstaff on Monday to prepare for the first league weekend that includes a trip to Northern Colorado for a New Year's Eve matchup against the defending champion Bears on Saturday night.
"We have had decent practices and we are trying to emphasize a few things we need to work on that includes competing, pressure defensively and rebounding," said Brown. "We have to get more action from our big players."
Sacramento State is 5-6 on the season and 1-4 on the road entering the Big Sky opener in Flagstaff against the Lumberjacks. Senior swingman Heath Hoffman is currently tied for second in the nation in three-point field goal percentage (.583) and freshman point guard Dylan Garrity is tied for seventh in assists per game (6.9). In fact, Garrity is the only freshman among the nation's top 30 players to rank in that category. If he had enough field goal attempts to qualify, senior center Josh McCarver's .778 field goal percentage (28-for-36) would rank as the nation's top mark.
"They are a good team and everybody is bigger than we are," said Brown. "We will have to make up for it with hard play and intensity and every game I am going to be concerned about our rebounding on the boards. Rebounding is a key for us."
NAU leads the all-time series 30-9, including 17-2 in games in Flagstaff and 13-7 in Sacramento. The Lumberjacks have won the last 13 meetings in the series. Sacramento State's last victory in the series came in Flagstaff on Feb. 26, 2005. The Lumberjacks have won seven straight at home against the Hornets.
Senior Josh Lepley has rejoined the team effective Dec. 27. The 6-8 center/forward from Reno, Nev averaged 2.4 points and 1.9 rebounds as a junior. He scored a season-high 15 points and tied career-high for blocks with four against Bethany.
"He wanted a chance to come back and be around basketball," said Brown. "We welcome him back and will take it a step at a time. There were no commitments between Josh and the coaching staff. I'll make those decisions and see how he progresses."