FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Senior Gabe Rogers ushered in a new era of Northern Arizona men's basketball with a game-high 29 points as he led the Lumberjacks to a 81-60 victory over Haskell in their first of two exhibition games leading up to their season opener at Oregon on Nov. 10. Rogers was one of four Lumberjacks in double-figures as head coach Jack Murphy picked up a victory in his NAU coaching debut on Saturday in front of a crowd of 496 at the Rolle Activiy Center.
"I thought we struggled at times, probably because of butterflies early, but as the game got on, we got into a groove and our freshmen came on in the second half and gave us a lift," Murphy said. "We have a bright future in many ways, but we just don't have much time to work on it. A week from today we have another game and two weeks from today we open up against Oregon, so we have to be a whole lot better looking in two weeks."
After jumping out to an 11-2 lead to begin the game, Haskell closed the gap to four points on two occasions in the opening period before the Lumberjacks took a 39-30 lead into the half. NAU was unable to distance itself to open the second half either and it led just 51-46 with 13:24 left in the game.
From there though, the Lumberjacks utilized a 14-0 run over the next six-plus minutes with freshmen Dewayne Russell and Blake Hamilton leading the game-separating charge. The two first-year Lumberjacks combined for 11 of the 14 points as NAU extended its lead to 19 at 65-46 with just under seven minutes to play. The Lumberjacks would maintain the double-digit lead throughout the remainder of the game, pushing it out to as much as 23, as they cruised to the victory from that point on.
"We took care of the basketball for the large majority of the game and we took good shots," Murphy said. "We shot a high percentage – 48 percent from the field – and we were 5-7 from three-point range in the second half which is really good and 9-17 for three overall. If we can do that night in and night out, we'll be ok."
The Lumberjacks were 28-for-59 from the field overall and outshot Haskell slightly, 48 percent to 45 percent for the game. However, Haskell shot just 39 percent from the field in the decisive second half and just 30 percent from behind the arc for the game. Haskell did outrebound NAU though on the glass, 33-30, yet they were undone by virtue of 32 turnovers which the Lumberjacks turned into 36 points off those Haskell errors.
Rogers led four Lumberjacks in double-figure scoring with his 29 points on 12-21 shooting and 4-7 from three-point range. Senior Stallon Saldivar had 11 points as did Hamilton, and Russell chipped in 10, seven of which came from the free-throw line. Saldivar also had team-highs in assists with six and steals with five, while sophomore Gaellan Bewernick posted a team-high seven rebounds.
"Gabe gave us a big lift and for him to come back from two days of not practicing due to an injury and have a performance like that was outstanding," Murphy said. "We're going to rely on Gabe a lot this year. He took a couple of tough shots and even though he knocked them down, we're going to have get him easier looks as teams start to focus on him more."
NAU is back at the Rolle Activity Center next Saturday, Nov. 3, for its final exhibition game in preparation for the 2012-13 season as they will host Adams State at 1 p.m.