MISSOULA, Mont. – Montana recorded a comeback win Saturday night over Northern Arizona, posting a 63-50 victory to seal the outright Big Sky Conference Championship and the right to host the league tournament next week in Missoula.
NAU (8-12) finished in a three-way tie with Southern Utah and Sacramento State. Despite the loss, the Lumberjacks earned the No. 7 seed for the tournament by virtue of their season sweep of Sacramento State and Eastern Washington's loss to Weber State that eliminated the Eagles. The No. 7 Lumberjacks will face No. 2 seed Weber State in the opening game of the 2013 Big Sky Men's Basketball Championship. Game time is set for 3 p.m. Thursday afternoon (2 p.m. in Arizona).
"It means everything," said Head Coach Jack Murphy. "We are very happy, excited and proud that we accomplished our No. 1 goal, which was making the conference tournament. Now the job is to keep playing."
No. 6 seed Southern Utah will play No. 3 North Dakota in the second game on Thursday, while No. 5 Montana State will play No. 3 Northern Colorado. The semifinals and finals will be contested Friday and Saturday with the championship game set to be televised by ESPN2.
NAU looked like it was going to ruin the Senior Night festivities for Montana in the first half, leading by as many as 11 points. The Lumberjacks led at the half behind a strong opening 20 minutes by Max Jacobsen, who scored a team-best 14 points. The Lumberjacks shot 50 percent from the field and had only three turnovers in the first half.
"We played one of our better halves of basketball of the season in the first half," said Murphy. "But we could not sustain it in the second half Based on the feel of the game our defense did a pretty good job. We rebounded the ball well and we were able to get the ball out in transition."
Montana closed the gap early in the second half with an 11-4 run out of the locker room. The teams remained close for most of the half before the Grizzlies pulled away late.
"In the second half, they are the conference champions and they made and run," said Murphy. "They are supposed to make a run and we battled back with them. It was still a tight game with five or six minutes to go. I am proud of how our guys fought. It helped prepare us for next week."
The Grizzlies held the Lumberjacks to only 18 points and 29 percent for shooting from the field in the second half. Jacobsen only had three points in the second half, finishing the game with a team-best 17 points.
Senior guard Gabe Rogers extended his streak of double digit games to 16, scoring 12 points on 5-of-12 shooting from the field. He finished as the regular season scoring champion in the Big Sky Conference.
"We want to play longer than just Thursday," said Murphy. "We want to look forward and keep playing. We enjoy each other's company and want to extend it as long as we can."
All the Lumberjack basketball action from the Big Sky Tournament will be heard on the Lumberjack Radio Network on 105.1 FM The Big Talker.