FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Junior forward Ben Olayinka likes to spend time in the gym. With more time, the better he feels going into games and his recent production is a direct result of that effort heading into a two-game Big Sky Conference road trip that includes the first return trip to his home state since arriving on the Northern Arizona campus.
Olayinka, who is from Corvallis, Ore., and his Lumberjack teammates take on Portland State Thursday night at 8:05 p.m. 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.
Olaykina, a junior college transfer from Big Bend Community College, had his best output to date last week with a career-high seven points and six rebounds off the bench in the win over Sacramento State in the Big Sky opener.
"It felt great," said Olayinka of his performance against the Hornets. "I felt really comfortable going into the game."
He felt comfortable because he had been in the gym. He was the first player on the court in pregame, working on jumpers and free throws with the Lumberjacks' shooting machine.
"I just try to get in the gym especially when we have the gun available," said Olayinka. "It is what I mean about being able to get comfortable before the game at home. I can be in the gym and it helps. The longer I can be in the gym before the game the more comfortable I am once it starts."
Olayinka also spent his holiday break in Flagstaff instead of returning to Oregon. He took the time to relax after his opening semester that resulted in a 4.00 grade point average in electrical engineering and worked out with Interim Head Coach Dave Brown.
"Ben is the hardest worker on this team hands down," said teammate Durrell Norman. "He gets after it every day and it shows on the court. He is a big man and he is strong. He is not afraid to go out there and hustle and get the balls."
Brown has also seen the hard work and its result in practice and games.
"He is working very hard," said Brown. "He has always been a hard worker. He is a thinker, a very bright young man. When he doesn't think and starts to play then he is getting better. He helped us win the game against Sacramento State. He had 21 minutes and did a great job for us under the circumstances. We are going to give him more playing time."
The Lumberjacks take on a Portland State team that is 6-8 overall on the season but lost its first two opening Big Sky games last weekend in Montana. Overall, the Vikings have lost four straight and six of seven overall after starting 5-2 on the season. Charles Odum leads the Vikings at 17.6 points per game, one of four PSU players averaging 10 or more points per game.
The Lumberjacks have had recent success against the Vikings, winning the last four meetings in the series. To continue the streak, the Lumberjacks will need better intensity and defensive effort than they showed in the New Year's Eve loss at Northern Colorado on Saturday.
"Defense and rebounding (are the keys) and we have to believe," said Brown. "We have to try and grow and mature and learn from every experience on the road and there have been a lot of experiences on the road. We expect to try and get them to play at a higher level."
The Bears shot 58.7 percent for the floor and out-rebounded the Lumberjacks 39-29. UNC was impressive beyond the arc, making 7-of-11 for the game.
Olayinka agrees with the assessment from his coach and is ready to lead the effort against the Vikings.
"We need to be very aggressive from the get go," said Olayinka. "That makes a big difference. Things that are only controlled by how much effort you put in the game and how ready you are to play. If we grab boards, do simple things and run plays then I think we can make easy buckets and feed off that and everyone will come alive."