FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – In one of the most exciting games of the 2016-17 season for the Northern Arizona men's basketball team, the Lumberjacks (6-16, 3-6) outlasted the Big Sky's second-best team North Dakota (12-8, 7-3) with a last-second block from sophomore Isaiah Thomas to win their second-consecutive game, 68-67.
"As our team showed today, we are capable of competing at a high level against the upper-echelon teams in the Big Sky," said Head Coach Jack Murphy. "I was really proud of how our men guarded today, especially in the second half in holding [UND] to only four transition points."
Thomas was undoubtedly the player of the game for NAU, as the forward from Oakland, Calif., registered his first-career double-double with a career-high in points (10) and rebounds (11), and tied a career-high in blocks with two.
Fellow sophomore Mike Green also had a great afternoon, going off from three-point land (5-of-7) and finishing with a team-high 17 points. Sophomore Marcus DeBerry, who logged a career-high 19 points last time out against UND, added 15 tonight to go along with seven rebounds and a game-high six assists.
Junior Kye de Laveaga got the ball rolling for NAU, connecting on a three from the corner to open the scoring in the first half. Knotted at nine early in the first, the Fighting Hawks came out of the second media timeout with two fast break layups—one of which ended up being a three-point play to extend the UND lead to 14-9.
Thomas, who now has pieced together back-to-back good games for the 'Jacks, nabbed an offensive board and dished to DeBerry for a pull-up jumper that cut the Fighting Hawks lead to one, 16-15. The Lumberjacks from there, though, went through a 1-of-9 stretch from the field as UND converted on 7-of-its-next-9, including 10 points off seven NAU turnovers.
After falling behind by seven, 25-18, the Lumberjacks closed out the half on a 14-9 run, ignited by three consecutive offensive conversions—a jumper from freshman Chris Bowling and two layups from Thomas and senior Jordyn Martin. Green popped a three from downtown to pull NAU within two, but UND made its last shot of the half to go into the locker room with a 34-30 lead.
Worth noting, though, that while the Fighting Hawks shot 59 percent from the field in the first, Big Sky Preseason Player of the Year Quinton Hooker—averaging 18.5 points a game—was left off the scorer's sheet with zero points and two personal fouls. He ended the game with 11 points overall.
In the first four minutes of the second half, the Fighting Hawks hit their first two shots but the NAU "D" stepped up and kept UND off the scoreboard for the next three-plus minutes. Smelling blood in the water, Green tickled the twine from downtown again after a Thomas bucket. However, three's on consecutive offensive trips kept the Fighting Hawks up by four, 45-41, at the 14:10 mark.
With 6:51 to go in the game, Martin reached double-digit points—the fifth time he has done so in the last six games—as NAU, once again, inched closer to UND, 59-54.
NAU's Green ended a two-plus minute scoring drought at 4:37 with his third three-ball of the game. A Fighting Hawk intentional foul sent DeBerry to the line where he connected on both to give NAU its first lead, 60-59, since the 17:22 mark in the first half. Green, now feeling it from downtown, hit another one to extend the Lumberjack lead to four, 63-59—the largest lead of the game for the home team.
The Fighting Hawks, living up to their name, battled back to regain the lead after five unanswered points, but another pair of DeBerry free throws gave NAU the edge, 65-64, with 1:47 to play.
Green netted a step-back three at the 1:22 mark, sending the crowd into a frenzy with the home team up, 68-66. Thomas marched to the line after securing the biggest offensive board of the game, but missed the 1-and-1 attempt and gave UND a chance down one with 7.2 seconds left in the game.
After trading timeouts, the Fighting Hawks inbounded the ball, missed a layup and a tip-in attempt. UND came down with an offensive board, though, with one more chance to win the game. Out of nowhere, Thomas rose up to—seemingly—the rafters of the rowdy Walkup Skydome to swat the last-chance attempt and secure the NAU victory.
"Thomas has all the tools to be a really good 'big' in this conference," said Murphy. "He's just beginning to hone those skills and tap into that potential. These last two games from him have been eye-opening, and we're just really proud of his effort and hard work."
NAU, despite turning the ball over 19 times, held advantages in points in the paint (32-26), bench points (27-12), second-chance points (17-5), total rebounds (43-27) and blocks (4-0) … Freshman Chris Bowling tied a career-high in points with eight … Coming into this game, UND was averaging 80.5 points in conference play this season and scoring at a .488 clip (shot .440 today) … Averaging only two blocks a game, NAU surpassed that today with four, including the game-sealer from Thomas … This is the first time NAU has recorded back-to-back wins since the 2015 season
The Lumberjacks travel to Pocatello, Idaho, next Thursday, Feb. 2, for a match-up against Idaho State. This will be the first dual of the season between NAU and ISU.