FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – True freshman James Douglas tied his career high with 22 points in his first career Big Sky Conference game to lead Northern Arizona to a 73-64 victory over Sacramento State Thursday night at the Rolle Activity Center.
NAU (5-8, 1-0) won for the third time in four games behind three players in double figures. Douglas scored 18 of his 22 in the first half, shooting 8-for-13 from the floor for the contest. Junior Gabe Rogers, who was playing in his third game of the season, scored 17 points, while senior Durrell Norman contributed 15 points and nine boards in the victory. Junior Ben Olayinka contributed season high seven points and six rebounds off the bench, while Gaellan Bewernick had eight points and six boards.
The Lumberjacks were hot in the opening half despite coming off an eight-day layoff for the holidays, shooting 64 percent from the floor to take a 40-27 halftime lead. Douglas led the charge with 18 points over the first 20 minutes. NAU finished the half 16-7 run over the final 5:58 to build its lead.
"They did not expect us to come out so hot in the first half from the perimeter," said Norman. "JD (James Douglas) and Gabe (Rogers) got good looks and they were able to knock them down. In the second half, they seemed to get more in them (defensively) so they looked to dump it in and we tried to work it inside out in the second half."
The Hornets (5-7, 0-1) responded out of the locker room, tying the game at 42 with 14-2 run over the first six minutes.
"We talked about playing harder," said Norman after the Hornets tied the game. "I think we were comfortable with the lead that we had and we were not getting after them. We talked about picking up the energy and intensity on the defensive end and playing smarter on offense."
The game remained close over the eight minutes with NAU clinging to a 52-50 advantage before going on an 8-0 run to extend the lead to 10 points. Norman had three baskets during the stretch. The Lumberjacks went 7-for-8 at the line down the stretch to seal the victory.
"It was important with the first game in conference to send a statement that we are tying to contend in the Big Sky too," said Douglas.
NAU shot just 32 percent from the floor in the second half and did not make a three-pointer after hitting seven of eight attempts in the first half. Overall, the Lumberjacks shot 13-for-14 at the line in the second half, while the Hornets made just 3 of 13 attempts at the charity stripe
John Dickson and Jackson Carbajal each had 13 points for Sacramento State.
NAU heads to Greeley, Colo., for a matchup with defending Big Sky champion Northern Colorado at 7:35 p.m on New Year's Eve. The Lumberjacks were eliminated by the Bears last season in the Big Sky Tournament in the semifinals.
The game can be heard on the Lumberjack Radio Network on 105.1 FM The Big Talker and online via their website and mobile app. Fans can also watch the game on the Big Sky TV.