Led by career-highs across the board for forward Isaiah Thomas, the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks won their second straight game, 79-70, against the San Diego Christian Hawks on Wednesday in Rolle Activity Center.
Finishing with a career-high 30 minutes, a result of injuries to Brooks DeBisschop and Ruben Fuamba, Thomas scored 17 points on 7-of-9 shooting while adding 15 rebounds. The numbers topped the best games of his career, last season against North Dakota and last weekend at Cal State Bakersfield.
“I knew I had an advantage on the rebounds, so I kind of went after boards and that's kind of how we have to play going on in the season,” Thomas said. “Playing bigger teams with seven-foot bigs or six-foot bigs, we have to go after every rebound every time no matter who it is.”
The Hawks entered the game with just one player listed at 6-foot-5 and another three at 6-foot-4, with the Lumberjacks (2-7) taking advantage. Outrebounding the NAIA school 43-29, Northern Arizona attacked inside and finished 17 of 22 at the free-throw line compared to just 7 of 12 for San Diego Christian.
Leading by just two at 39-37 with 17:44 left in the second half, the group of Thomas, Lenell Henry, Gino Littles, JoJo Anderson and Karl Harris helped put together a 16-0 run. Shooting 8 of 10 during the burst, the Lumberjacks kept the Hawks off the scoreboard for more than three minutes.
“That group played with great energy and passion and they wanted to be out on the floor,” said Lumberjacks head coach Jack Murphy. “You saw I changed the starting lineup for the second half; we have to get guys who consistently want to play.”
With Littles hitting a pair of 3-pointers to start the run, Thomas threw down an alley-oop from Anderson before Harris scored seven straight himself with a pair of layups and a 3. Layups by Littles and Corey Brown, who reentered the game at the end of the run, capped off the scoring.
“He played with great energy in the first half, he has been playing better,” Murphy said about Harris. “At Bakersfield and Santa Clara, I felt like he was playing well and I wanted to get him more minutes -- he deserves them. Tonight a couple guys didn't want to play, so Karl got in there and he showed up.”
Harris finished the game with a team-high 19 points and added nine rebounds in just 23 minutes of play, all career-highs with Northern Arizona in his ninth game. Starting the second half after playing eight minutes in the first half, Harris said he was happy to finally show what he could do in a game.
“Whatever the team needed, I was just ready to step up,” Harris said. “Coach brought it up in the locker room and I was game for it. The whole staff, my team and Coach knew I have been doing it all year in practice and I just wasn't able to put it together in a game. They believe in me, my coach believes in me, it was just good to finally have a breakout.”
Littles finished with 12 points, four rebounds, three steals and three assists while shooting 50 percent from the field. Anderson’s game-high six assists ended as his best total this season, adding eight points, and Henry finished with nine points and six rebounds.
Despite the strong run put together by the group of five Murphy relied on in the second half, San Diego Christian rallied back as some of the quintet left for the bench to rest.
With the Hawks hitting three 3s as part of a 23-8 run across more than seven minutes of play, the Lumberjacks struggled to slow the momentum. Still leading by just three with 2:03 remaining, the Lumberjacks held on as the Hawks missed all three of their shots from the field and one of their two free throws.
Littles, Anderson and Harris all went 2 of 2 from the free-throw line in the final 26 seconds of play to put the game away.
Northern Arizona played without DeBisschop and Fuamba, both out with foot injuries sustained in the past few days, so the Lumberjacks were limited to Thomas, Brown and Henry up front.
Murphy said the team could possibly get Fuamba back for Saturday’s game at the San Diego Toreros (6-2). Murphy praised Thomas’ work in their places, with the two injured forwards starting Northern Arizona’s last game at Bakersfield.
“Huge, it is huge, and I believe Corey Brown is capable of it, too,” said Murphy, who added the two were challenged by the need to guard perimeter players. “When you lose your starting four and five from your last game, it is going to throw some stuff off kilter a bit. Hopefully we get Ruben back, and same with Brooks; hopefully they are not long-term injuries.”