FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Northern Arizona led by as many as nine points as it shot 48.4% in the first half, but the Lumberjacks shot just 19.2% in the second half and Idaho State held on for a 52-48 win on Saturday night in the Walkup Skydome. NAU moved to 4-12 overall and 3-4 in the Big Sky while the Bengals - the defending Big Sky champion – improved to 5-3 in conference and 10-7 overall.
"Where we had great effort and great energy and execution in the first half, we had none of that from the very beginning of the second half," NAU head coach Sue Darling said. "That is not a physical thing, it's a mental thing. We don't have the maturity at this time to close out a close game and that's the next step it's going to take to move to the upper echelon of the league."
The Lumberjacks were superb offensively through the first 20 minutes of the game while connecting on 15-of-31 shots to shoot 48.4% from the field. The home team turned an early 8-7 deficit into a 14-8 lead at the 12:18 mark of the half and built a game-high nine point lead at 21-12 with 5:28 to play. After Idaho State – which shot 42.3% itself in the first half – battled back knot the game at 25-25 and moved to a 28-27 lead, NAU made three consecutive layups to end the half on a 6-0 run and take a 33-28 lead to the intermission.
The second half was a different story offensively – for both teams. NAU and Idaho State both started the second half 0-of-7 from the field as the only points through the first six and a half minutes of the half were a pair of ISU free throws. A jumper by NAU senior Amy Patton broke NAU's cold streak to put the Lumberjacks up 35-30, and though Idaho State's first field goal of the second half came more than seven and half minutes into the second stanza, it tied the game as senior Ashleigh Vella drained a three to level the score at 35-35 with 12:24 to play.
The Lumberjacks led 37-35 at the 12:04 mark after a layup by sophomore Erikka Banks, but Idaho State followed with a 7-0 run to build a 42-37 advantage. Despite making only one field goal over a nine and a half minute stretch until the final second of the game, NAU trailed by just one point at 46-45 with 5:12 to play. A single Idaho State jumper was the only field goal made by either team over the next 5:11, as the Bengals made 4-of-6 late free-throws to take a 52-46 lead before an NAU basket with one second remaining brought the final score to 52-48.
NAU did not have a player score in double-figures for the first time this season, as seniors Paige Haynes and Tyler Stephens-Jenkins each finished with a team-high nine points. Patton finished with eight points – just her second game this year not scoring in double-digits – and had a team-high eight rebounds while junior Patricia Gortarez provided a defensive spark off the bench with a career-high five steals. Vella finished with a game-high 18 points while junior Lindsey Reed added 14 points to pace the Bengals.
Idaho State shot just 26.3% in the second half and finished with a slim .356-.351 edge in field goal percentage for the game. The teams were even with 37 rebounds apiece though NAU had 11 offensive boards leading to nine second chance points. The Lumberjacks had four more made field goals than the Bengals but shot 1-of-8 from 3-point range and were outscored 15-7 at the free-throw line.
After going 2-2 on their four-game home stand, the Lumberjacks will play five of their next six games on the road. Following the tough loss Darling expressed confidence in her team's ability to respond as they head out on a challenging road swing.
"The beauty of this team is that everything and every obstacle that has been put in front of them, they have found a way as a team to either get through it or go over it," she said. "The next step for our team is to show the maturity, both offensively and defensively, to close out a game."
NAU will return to action at Northern Colorado next Thursday at 7 p.m.