GRAND FORKS, N.D. – Northern Arizona survived a tight regulation and won the game in overtime with a 74-72 victory over North Dakota at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center.
"I am so proud of our players and staff," said Head Coach Jack Murphy. "It was a great win and gutsy performance on the road without one of our leaders and captains in Stallon Saldivar. Guys stepped up. I am excited for how they played and gutted it out."
Saldivar sat out the game with an ankle sprain suffered against Northern Colorado on Thursday.
The Lumberjacks improved to 10-16 and 7-9 in Big Sky Conference play, posting a win over a UND team that entered the game in a tie for third in the standings. UND dropped to 11-14, 8-8 in Big Sky play.
"It was a very important win," said freshman guard DeWayne Russell, who returned to the starting lineup for Saldivar and scored 21 points. "Coach Murphy said he does not talk about 'must win' games but this was a must win. It was a good game and we played really good tonight."
UND had won the first meeting between the teams last month, overcoming a 22-point deficit to win the game on a last second basket. Saturday's contest was tight throughout with both teams holding leads in the second half.
Leading 61-59 with under a minute left, UND's Aaron Anderson hit one of two free throws. Russell then drove to the hoop to hit a layup to cut the lead to 62-61 with 35 seconds left. On the next possession, Anderson was fouled again and hit the first to push the lead to 63-61 before missing the second to give NAU a chance to tie or win the game. After a timeout by the Lumberjacks, Russell tied the game at 63 with his second straight driving layup.
"We did a high ball screen and I saw the point guard was trailing me and the big man was backing up," said Russell. "So I wanted to attack him. Coach Murphy said we were going to get (a foul) and an and-one on the play. I attacked him and he did not foul me so I took the layup."
With 10 seconds left, the Green and White had a final chance to win but the Lumberjacks contested the play and the desperation three by Troy Huff was off the mark to force overtime.
Anderson, who finished with 24 points for UND, started the overtime by hitting two three-pointers in first two minutes to give UND the early lead. Freshman Blake Hamilton, who finished with a career-high tying 11 points, scored five points in the extra period with a jumper and three free throws to pull the Lumberjacks back ahead.
"Blake stepped in like he has been playing all year long," said Murphy. "He played like he did not miss a beat. He did a really good job. It was a positive step for Blake and his freshman year. He has persevered through a lot and has been really resilient."
Hamilton added a career-high seven rebounds in a career-high 33 minutes.
With 1:10 left, Rogers added a jumper to give NAU a 72-69 lead. A NAU turnover was sandwiched between a pair of missed UND shots including a three-point attempt by Anderson that could have tied the game. After a free throw by Michael Dunn with 13 seconds left, Anderson hit his third triple in overtime to pull UND within one. Rogers was fouled and made the first free throw before missing the second that was rebounded by UND with less than a second remaining. After a timeout, the Lumberjacks posted the big road victory as the desperation full-court heave was well short. It was the first win by a Big Sky team on Saturday against UND in Grand Forks this season.
"I was really proud of how the guys shot free throws, going 16-for-20 for the game," said Murphy. "It is one of our better marks for the season. In overtime, guys really made big plays. We scored the first bucket in overtime and then they hit a couple of threes. We could have wilted and fallen away."
The game featured 20 lead changes and 11 ties in a back-and-forth contest.
"There are going to be ebbs and flows in the game," said Murphy. "I thought the guys did a good job of staying the course."
Rogers and Russell both played the full 45 minutes in the contest. Rogers finished with a game-high 24 points to lead the Lumberjacks, including a key basket in the overtime period. Russell had 21 points.
"Stallon was hurt and he really provides so much to the team," said Rogers. "We took it upon ourselves to play as hard as possible."
NAU shot 45 percent for the game from the field, including 6-for-10 in the overtime period, and forced 21 UND turnovers.
The Lumberjacks got off to a hot start in their first visit to North Dakota in school history taking a 19-9 lead over the first 10 minutes. North Dakota responded with a 14-0 run to take a four-point lead and led by one at the break.
UND posted a big advantage on the boards at 24-14 in the first half, while shooting seven more free throws than the Lumberjacks. Both teams shot 39 percent from the floor.
NAU will be off from Big Sky Conference play this week to take part in the ESPN's Ramada Worldwide BracketBusters event. The Lumberjacks will travel to Hawaii to take on the Rainbow Warriors on Saturday, Feb. 23 at 8 p.m. Arizona time.