Before this week it looked like the Northern Arizona men’s basketball team had a strong chance at finishing in the top five of the Big Sky Conference standings.
After dropping a third straight game -- and third loss in six days -- those chances are looking less likely.
The Lumberjacks lost in a similar way Saturday afternoon to the Weber State Wildcats as they have multiple times this season. Northern Arizona kept close for the first 10 minutes of the game, but went cold on offense and struggled to guard on defense, allowing one of the Big Sky’s top-three teams to close the first half on a 30-12 run.
The trench the Lumberjacks dug was again too big and the Lumberjacks fell to the Wildcats, 86-71, in the Walkup Skydome.
“When you don’t shoot a good percentage and put the ball in the basket, it’s tough to set up your half-court defense,” Lumberjacks head coach Jack Murphy said. “I thought we came out guarding them well, especially in the half court but they are a great team when they get out in transition.”
Now at 7-16 overall and 5-8 in the Big Sky, Northern Arizona went from sitting near the middle of the pack in the standings to now inching closer to the lower-third. Weber continued its recent dominance over Northern Arizona -- taking its seventh straight -- and have now won 20 of the past 23 games.
Murphy elected to start Aziz Seck against the Wildcats in what he called an effort to get some energy out of his team.
“That was to light a spark in certain guys and bring in more effort energy,” Murphy said. “We want to play hard, we want to compete for 40 minutes and Aziz does bring that. He only played eight minutes, but they were really productive.”
Weber simply outplayed Northern Arizona in the first half, dominating across the board while taking a 46-27 advantage into the second half. Offensively, only Ted McCree could find a semblance of rhythm for Northern Arizona -- scoring 11 first-half points on 4-of-6 shooting from the field and 3 of 5 from behind the arc. In the first, the rest of the Lumberjacks shot 5 of 24 from the field and 0 of 6 from 3-point range.
The second half saw a much different Northern Arizona team, as the Lumberjacks outscored Weber 44-40 to close out.
“We have to have that from the team for the whole 40 minutes and we had that in spurts tonight,” Murphy said. “We just didn't have it for the whole 40 minutes. When you struggle to score like we did in the first half it affects your defense.”
Northern Arizona closed the game on a 9-5 scoring run but the deficit it faced from the first half was too much to overcome. Lumberjacks guard Carlos Hines went 1 of 5 from the field, scoring just four points for his fourth straight game failing to hit double-digit scoring. McCree led Northern Arizona with 15 points.
For the Wildcats, guards Jerrick Harding and Cody John carried the load on offense -- scoring 29 and 25 points apiece, respectively. The two combined for 54 points on 19-of-31 shooting from the field and 6-of-12 shooting 3. Despite being down starting big man Zach Braxton, Weber still out-rebounded Northern Arizona 32-30.
The Lumberjacks will be on the road next week against Portland State first on Thursday and then against Sacramento State on Saturday.