Putting together an 11-0 run late in the first half, the Idaho State Bengals swept the season series against the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks with a 63-61 victory Thursday night in the Walkup Skydome.
Surviving a last-second 3-point attempt by Northern Arizona, Idaho State handed the Lumberjacks yet another close loss at home, with the past four home losses coming by a combined 14 points.
After Idaho State’s Balint Mocsan missed a pair of free throws with 6.4 seconds left, Torry Johnson sprinted past midcourt and found Chris Bowling for a 3-pointer at the buzzer that bounced off the rim to end the game.
“You have an open shot to win it,” said Lumberjacks head coach Jack Murphy. “Obviously we would have liked Torry to go up, but they really squeezed the paint. They did a good job there, so you take an open 3 to win the game.”
Idaho State (10-10, 5-4 Big Sky) struggled down the stretch, hitting only 1 of its final 8 shots from the field and scoring its last four points, across three minutes of play, from the free-throw line. After Johnson cut the deficit to four at 63-59 with a pair of free throws, Northern Arizona forced a turnover on the ensuing inbounds pass with Brooks Debisschop recovering the loose ball and driving right to the rim for a layup.
Northern Arizona fouled Mocsan, and Murphy could be heard reminding everyone on the floor of the guard’s 65.4 percent total from the free-throw line this season.
“He may not have been our first choice, but he had missed a couple on us up at Pocatello,” Murphy said.
Calling a timeout after the first miss, Northern Arizona grabbed the rebound after the second and Debisschop found Johnson taking off toward the basket.
“He is proven, even in the Montana State game. He has proven to be quick down the court,” Murphy said of Johnson, who had previously run the length of the court at home to send the Montana State game to overtime. “I felt like we got a really good shot, and a lot of credit for that goes to the outlet, the rebound, and then Chris running the floor.”
After the Lumberjacks (4-19, 1-9) tied the game at 28 with just 4:50 left before halftime, the Bengals’ Brandon Boyd scored seven points and Jared Stutzman added four on an 11-0 run spanning a little more than three minutes. With Northern Arizona missing seven straight shots, Idaho State connected on 4 of 6 from the field as it took a lead it never conceded.
Stutzman beat Northern Arizona inside for a pair of layups and Boyd added two from the line, a 3-pointer and a layup. While Karl Harris ended the Lumberjacks’ dry spell with a layup in the final minute and another to open the second half, the Bengals connected on three consecutive 3s by Balint Mocsan, Stutzman and Geno Luzcando to take their largest lead at 48-32.
Shots from outside led Idaho State throughout much of the second half, with the Bengals not connecting on a field goal from inside the arc or a free throw until 2:59 remaining in the game, hitting six 3s in the meantime. Idaho State finished 7 of 22 from the field in the second half, with 6 of 13 of the shots coming from outside and another 4 of 9 coming at the line.
“We were just trying to chip away, cut at the lead,” Harris said. “We gave up 53 percent from the field in the first half and the second half they shot 31 percent. So we just were trying to lock up and claw away, because we knew we could be in the game.”
Both schools opened the game on fire from the field, with Northern Arizona connecting on 7 of 11 in the first seven minutes, including its first 12 points coming in the paint. Idaho State answered with a 9-of-12 start as neither team led by more than five points in the first 16 minutes of play.
“Our defense in the first half was not what it should be or what we have come to expect,” Murphy said. “We have played better as of late, but you have got to defend for 40 minutes. In the first half, we just let them do what they wanted.”
Debisschop scored six of the first 12 for Northern Arizona, ending the night with a career-high 18 rebounds to tie the highest total in the Big Sky this season, and added 10 points for another double-double.
Harris, who fouled out with 30 seconds remaining and was on the bench for the final sequence of the game, finished with a career-high 23 points on 8-of-18 shooting from the field. Harris led the way on the offensive end with JoJo Anderson missing another game due to a hip injury, with Johnson adding another double-digit performance with 15 points.
“I think I am so versatile, I can get the ball off of the rim, I can rebound, I can push the 1, whatever the coach needs from me,” Harris said. “We are undermanned, so whenever my number is called, it is my job to be ready.”
Gino Littles added 10 as only five Lumberjacks scored in the game with their rotation shortened by injuries and off-court issues. Bowling struggled from the field for the third straight game, finishing 0 of 10 and 3 of 26 in the past three games with Anderson sidelined.
“We had a shot to win it tonight and Chris Bowling has been one of our better scorers on the season,” Murphy said. “It is one of those things, we talk about it all the time -- consistency, and we just didn’t have it.”
Along with Anderson, Kye de Laveaga missed another game with an injury and Corey Brown was held out for a game due to a violation of team rules.
More notably, Lenell Henry was removed from the roster ahead of the game following his arrest on Tuesday for assault, criminal damage and disorderly conduct.
“I can’t comment on anything past the point that Lenell is no longer a student here at NAU and no longer part of the program,” said Murphy, with the final decision made yesterday. Initially, the school announced Henry was placed on indefinite suspension when contacted for comment Wednesday afternoon.