FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Down by 12 with 11 and a half minutes to go in the game, the Northern Arizona men's basketball team erupted for a 21-0 run over the next four minutes en route to a 86-78 victory over Adams State on Saturday at the Rolle Activity Center. The Lumberjacks will now head into next Saturday's season opener at Oregon following a pair of exhibition victories.
"Adams State was a fantastic team, very talented and very skilled, and we were excited to get on the floor and compete against them," said head coach Jack Murphy. "I'm really excited about this team and we have a good opportunity to get better. The team next week in green is going to be a little different than the one we just played, but we know what's on the horizon and we're ready for it."
Adams State dominated the first half of play and led for the majority of the first 20 minutes. The Grizzlies jumped out to an early lead that eventually reached 12 at 25-13 with nine minutes to go before halftime. The Lumberjacks slowly chipped away at their deficit and eventually took a brief 37-35 lead with just under two minutes remaining on a jumper by senior Gabe Rogers. Following a pair of made free throws, the Grizzlies' John Jackson hit a three-pointer at the buzzer to send the visitors into the half with a slim 40-37 advantage.
The Grizzlies came out of the break firing and eventually got their lead back up to 12 at 57-45 with 11:39 to go before the NAU barrage ensued. A layup by senior Ephraim Ekanem off a feed by senior Stallon Saldivar opened the floodgates as the Lumberjacks connected on 10 of their next 12 shots, including 5-for-5 from behind the arc. During the NAU 21-0 spurt, Adams State missed all five of its shots and also committed three turnovers, fueling the Lumberjacks from the defensive end.
"It started with our defense, we got stops and we were able to run," Murphy said of his team's second half run. "We want to get out on the floor and get open looks early. For us, it showed a lot of heart and obviously our guys hit open shots. I was very proud of how they knocked down shots, but it all started on the defensive end."
With the lead firmly in hand, the Lumberjacks held off any sight of a run by the Grizzlies and knocked down all six attempts from the free-throw line in the final 15 seconds to wrap up the victory.
The Lumberjacks shot 45 percent from the field for the game while limiting the Grizzlies to just 40 percent shooting. For the second straight game, NAU shot upwards of 45 percent from three-point range as they were 10-for-22 on Saturday for a 46 percent clip. NAU also held advantages over the Grizzlies on the glass (46-40) and in assists (20-13), as well as points in the paint, second chance points and fast break points.
For the second straight exhibition game, Rogers led the Lumberjacks in scoring with a game-high 26, 11 of which came during the game-deciding run. He also added six rebounds and five assists while playing a game-high 37 minutes. Rogers finished the two exhibition games with a 27.5 points per game average while shooting 56 percent on threes and 51 percent overall.
Senior Michael Dunn added 14 points and a team-high three steals, while freshman Dewayne Russell added 11 of his own, his second double-digit scoring game off the bench in a row. Saldivar recorded five of his game-high seven assists during the NAU run and sophomore Gaellan Bewernick posetd a game-high 11 rebounds.
The Lumberjacks will next officially open up their 2012-13 season at Oregon at 5:30 p.m. next Saturday. The game will be the first of six consecutive road contests for NAU to open the season. The Oregon game can be seen on the Pac-12 Network.
"It's not about how you play in November and December, but it's how you finish in January, February and March," Murphy said. "We're going to get better as the season continues."