FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – North Dakota overcame a 22-point first half deficit and won the game on a last second basket by Troy Huff off an offensive rebound to defeat Northern Arizona 81-79 Saturday at the Walkup Skydome.
Huff scored 26 points in the game and got the game winner off a missed shot by Lenny Antwi with three seconds left to send the Lumberjack crowd home disappointed. NAU won on Thursday on a last second shot at the buzzer to defeat Northern Colorado.
The Lumberjacks started the game on fire behind the energy from the crowd, hitting 15 of the first 20 shots from the field to take a 34-12 lead at the 8:13 mark of the game. But UND rallied the rest of the half with a 24-13 run to cut the NAU lead to 11 at the half.
"We jumped out and played as well as we had all year for 12 minutes and we thought the game was over," said Head Coach Jack Murphy. "If games were 12 minutes long, we would have a better record. Games are 40 minutes long and we have to learn how to play for 40 minutes. We did not do that today."
UND continued the run to open the second half, hitting 13 of their first 14 shots. They took their first lead of the game at 52-51 barely five minutes into the second half with a 16-4 run to start the half. Over the first nine minutes, they out-scored the Lumberjacks 32-8 to extend their lead to 11 points.
"North Dakota came out and we probably thought they were going lay down," said Murphy. "They were not going to. Coach Jones is a great coach and he has talented players."
Still leading by 11 with 8:56 left in the game, Gabe Rogers scored nine points during a 14-3 run to tie the game at 74 with 4:38 left and bring hope back to the Skydome crowd. The Lumberjacks managed to tie the game twice over the final minutes but never took the lead.
DeWayne Russell tied the game for the final time at 79 with a free throw with under a minute to play. Senior guard Stallon Saldivar, who finished with seven assists and five rebounds, grabbed a big board after a miss on Russell's second attempt, giving NAU a chance to take the lead. But, Rogers' jump shot was off the mark with 19 seconds left.
"We stopped playing," said Rogers. "It is embarrassing that we blew a 22-point lead like that. We had a great crowd and I really thank the crowd for coming out and being there for us. I am sorry that we did not get this win. We have to learn from this. The best thing we can do is learn from this loss."
On the final possession, Huff rebounded the miss by Antwi in the paint and got the put back for the game winner. The final long three-point attempt was off the mark for the Lumberjacks as UND prevailed.
"Troy Huff is maybe the best scorer I have seen in the league," said Murphy. "He is the most difficult player to defend as an individual as we have seen every team in the league. We did not do enough things to get the win today."
Rogers finished with a career-high 35 points for the Lumberjacks, tying the 10th-best single-game performance in school history. Sophomore Gaellan Bewernick added 11 points.
UND improved to 8-12 and 5-5 in Big Sky play, while NAU dropped to 7-12 and 4-6.
"When you lose home games like we have, you put yourself in a hole," said Murphy. "The only way to get out of it is to go on the road and win. We have a tough stretch ahead. Nobody is going to make excuses or feel sorry for us. We just have to go win."
NAU heads back on the road to play at Southern Utah on Saturday, Feb. 2. The Lumberjacks play six of their final 10 conference games on the road to close the regular season.