Having snapped their seven-game losing streak to open Big Sky Conference play, the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks return home looking for their first Division I victory in Flagstaff.
Now at 4-18 this season, with road wins at Cal State Bakersfield, Jacksonville and Montana State, Northern Arizona last won at home in the Rolle Activity Center against San Diego Christian on Dec. 6.
After five straight losses at home since, the Lumberjacks will look for their first win in the Walkup Skydome since March 4, 2017, when they beat the Eastern Washington Eagles to wrap up the regular season.
“I think we are in a good position here to gain some momentum here in the second half,” said Lumberjacks head coach Jack Murphy. “We need to start taking care of business at home. Our home games have been very competitive, we just need to close them out.”
After an 18-point loss to Montana to open conference play at home, Northern Arizona lost by three to Montana State in overtime, by five to Eastern Washington after trailing by 28 and by four to Idaho after leading by eight.
One of the Lumberjacks' other close losses came in Pocatello to Idaho State, a 64-60 loss three and a half weeks ago. After opening conference at 3-0, the Bengals have fallen to 4-4, with losses in four of their past five games.
Sitting seventh in the Big Sky standings, Idaho State ranks 11th in adjusted offensive efficiency ahead of only Northern Arizona. Led by Jared Stutzman, who averages 14.9 points per game with both his field goal percentage (58.1 percent) and 3-point percentage (49.3 percent) second in the Big Sky, the Bengals never allowed the Lumberjacks to take a lead in the first meeting.
Northern Arizona cut its deficit to one point on three occasions in the first half, but allowed Idaho State to take a double-digit advantage in the second half. Trailing by 12 with 7:16 remaining, the Lumberjacks kept the pressure on as JoJo Anderson scored six straight points to cut the lead to three in the final minute and Gino Littles finished with a career-high 22 points.
Anderson, however, will likely be unavailable again this week with a hip injury. Having missed the past two games in Montana, Anderson left Northern Arizona without its leading scorer and leader in offensive rating.
In the interim, Torry Johnson continued his strong run of games with a career-high 27 points in the victory against Montana State and added 19 points at Montana despite seven turnovers.
“It is difficult and I think guys have stepped up, Gino has been playing much better, Torry Johnson has been playing well,” said Murphy of filling the absence of Anderson. “You have seen guys step up, we just want that consistency and I think you are starting to see some of those guys being consistent.”
While Northern Arizona sits at the bottom of the conference, the Lumberjacks still remain just one game out of 10th place, with North Dakota and Southern Utah tied at 2-7. Sacramento State and Portland State also sit just two games ahead at 3-5 in the Big Sky.
With Idaho State and Southern Utah -- who beat Northern Arizona by six in Cedar City -- on the schedule during the Lumberjacks’ two-week stay at home, Northern Arizona holds the opportunity to climb upward in the immediate future.
“There’s pressure every game. When you are in this league and wins are hard to come by, there’s pressure every game,” Murphy said. “We were 0-7 last week at this time staring Montana State in the face. We just have to come out and play our game.”