FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The Northern Arizona men's basketball team trailed by 14 with 11:02 left but a furious rally came up short as the Lumberjacks dropped their fifth consecutive Big Sky game 74-72 against Montana State at the Rolle Activity Center Saturday night.
"I have great respect for our kids because they took that 14-point deficit and turned it into a great effort in the second half," said Interim Head Coach Dave Brown. "Hopefully that will spin into some positive things for them in the future."
The Lumberjacks full-court press in the second half finally got to the Bobcats, eliminating a 14-point deficit to tie the game at 68 with 4:29 left. NAU went on a 21-7 over the stretch.
"We like the press and we have used it," said Brown. "It is something that is run properly can create offense off of turnovers."
The teams exchanged baskets before the Lumberjacks got a big block by Ephraim Ekanem and foul, setting up a pair of free throws by Stallon Saldivar for the first lead since early in the contest at 74-72.
"We talked about not hanging our heads when we were down," said Norman. "We picked up the intensity and the press helped us get a lot of easy buckets. We were able turn them over and it helped build our confidence and we made shots."
Xavier Blount hit a jumper to tie the game and the Lumberjacks turned the ball over on a cross-court pass, resulting in a breakaway layup by Blount for a 74-72. Freshman James Douglas missed a three-pointer with 49 seconds left. After a Bobcat turnover, the Lumberjacks had a final chance to tie or win the game.
After a timeout with 10 seconds, left, NAU got a final three-pointer off by Saldivar at the buzzer that was off the mark.
"We were looking for the shooters and they switched up to man," said Norman. "We tried get the open shot. We want to win and it has been a while since we got a win. We can take positive things from this but we want to walk off the floor with a W."
NAU shot 53.6 percent in the second half during the comeback effort but shot just 40 percent for the game after making 29 percent (9-of-31) in the first half.
Douglas finished with a team-best 13 points off the bench, while Norman and Ekanem each contributed 10 points. Blount finished with a game-high 21 points for MSU.
Montana State snapped a 10-game losing streak in Flagstaff, improving to 8-8, 3-2 in the Big Sky. NAU (5-13, 1-5) dropped its fifth consecutive game and second straight at home.
NAU travels to Big Sky leader Weber State on Thursday in Ogden and Idaho State in Pocatello this week.