The Lumberjacks played the best basketball of the entire season for the first 12 minutes of Saturday's home game against the University of North Dakota.
But that was all the good basketball Northern Arizona played, as the team gave up a 22-point lead and allowed UND to pull off an inspired 81-79 comeback win.
Playing in their second game in under 48 hours, UND (8-12 overall, 5-5 Big Sky) absorbed NAU's early attack, then easily overcame a lackluster Lumberjacks team that seemed to lie down and let North Dakota walk all over it.
NAU head coach Jack Murphy was not happy with his team's letdown.
"When we were up 34-12, I think the guys thought the game was over," Murphy said. "The referees had gone home, the building was empty and the game was over; it wasn't."
Playing for 40 minutes is something that NAU hasn't been able to do all season; whether it's getting off to a slow start or running out of the gates full speed and faltering as the game goes on, NAU hasn't put a full game together yet.
But giving up a huge early lead may have been the worst falling off by the Jacks all year.
"People just stopped playing hard," senior guard Gabe Rogers said. "It's embarrassing that we blew a 22-point lead like that. We had a great crowd and I thank them for being there for us, and I'm sorry for them that we didn't get this win."
The Dome attracted 1,601 fans who dozed mid-game as the Jacks did, and though the team is happy to be filling the stands, the players don't feel like they're holding up their end of the deal.
"We ask the fans to come out and they held up their end of the bargain, but we didn't get the win," senior guard Mike Dunn said.
Though he said it doesn't matter personally to him, Rogers broke a career scoring high with 35 points. He said it doesn't matter how many points he scores if the team doesn't win.
Murphy added as talented and hard-working as Rogers is -- as well as other Lumberjacks like Stallon Saldivar, DeWayne Russell and Dunn -- it won't matter if the rest of the team doesn't pick up their end of the responsibilities.
"Gabe is an outstanding player and scorer and he takes basketball serious; it matters to him," Murphy said. "It's important that the rest of the team falls in line. Not everybody on the team is like that."
Gaellan Bewernick was the only other Lumberjack in double figures with 11 points, but he played most of the second half in foul trouble. UND got to the free-throw line 17 times and made 13 shots, while NAU continued to struggle from the line with a 14-for-21 night.
League-leading scorer Troy Huff went off for 26 points to lead UND, while Josh Schuler added 13 and Mitch Wilmer scored 10.
Murphy said the lack of effort on the Lumberjacks part made UND the better team.
"North Dakota cut it to 11 points at the half and came out in the second throwing punches and clearly was the better team, 100 percent, for 28 minutes of the game," he said. "You play great for 12 minutes and give the game away in the other 28 minutes, it's hard to find anything positive."
While Rogers said part of the team's problem after the great start was being selfish.
"I don't think we moved the ball well after the first couple of minutes," Rogers said. "We started to play selfish ball. We have to play team ball if we want to win."
Dunn added that it was embarrassing to play with so little intensity and that how the team handles this loss will be important in the bigger scheme of things.
"We have to forget about this game and focus on the next one. Win or lose, the most important game is the next one," Dunn said.
NAU hits the road for games at Southern Utah Saturday and Sacramento State Monday.
Bill Harris can be reached at email@example.com or 556-2251.