Following back-to-back dramatic losses, the Northern Arizona men’s basketball team was looking for a win to get off a bad snide.
Playing without starting point guard Carlos Hines to injury, the Lumberjacks (5-12, 3-4 Big Sky) regrouped and took a win in a wild and fast, 82-75, game against the Portland State Vikings (6-11, 1-5 Big Sky) Saturday in the Walkup Skydome.
Taking on major minutes for the injured Hines -- who missed the game with a knee injury suffered in the Sacramento State loss Thursday and is day-to-day going forward -- freshman guard Cameron Shelton filled the void with a solid and effort-filled night.
“Fantastic,” Lumberjacks head coach Jack Murphy said of Shelton’s performance. “We found out about Carlos Hines 20 minutes before the game. His knee was bothering him from the end on Thursday. ... Cameron Shelton, a freshman, coming off the bench with 14 points, seven rebounds and a couple steals was not gonna let us lose the game. I thought he did a great job.”
Northern Arizona held the lead for 26 minutes -- and by as much as 15 late into the second half -- building enough of a buffer to keep the Vikings away in the final stretch.
Going into the final two minutes, Shelton and forward Bernie Andre each fouled out while the Lumberjacks held a double-digit lead.
“The minute that Cameron Shelton and Bernie Andre fouled out, my heart sank because they had done such a great job taking care of the ball. As a coach, you just have so much trust and faith in them,” Murphy said. “... Once we lost them we knew it would be a scramble until the end. Luckily we built enough of a cushion."
The game was a foul fest in the final minute, but Northern Arizona had a sizable enough advantage to avoid letting garbage-time buckets by Portland State matter too much.
While Portland State put on a trapping press for most of the game, the Vikings struggled with ball control more than Northern Arizona. The Vikings committed 23 turnovers, with 14 in the first half alone. The Lumberjacks made good to take advantage of the mishaps, scoring 30 points off of turnovers.
Portland State entered the game with one of the highest turnover rates in the nation -- turning the ball over on 20 percent of possessions, according to KenPom.com -- and also the highest per-game turnover count in the Big Sky (15 per game).
Viking guard Holland Woods -- an Apollo High School (Glendale) product -- was held to just 7-of-18 shooting and committed a game-high eight turnovers. The Vikings, one of the NCAA’s worst 3-point shooting teams, went 9 for 33 from the arc (27.3 percent) -- just about their season average of 24.8 percent.
Andre fouled out after tying his career high of 21 points to go along with seven rebounds and two assists. He was easily the Lumberjacks' most consistent scoring option, hitting key shots when the Vikings' pressure forced the Lumberjacks to scramble on offense.
The win comes less than 48 hours after the Lumberjacks dropped a last-minute loss to Sacramento State, a result that stuck in the players’ minds heading into Saturday.
“We were upset, but you just got to let it go and be able to move on,” Andre said. “We came in the next day in practice and had a great practice even though some guys were out with some injuries and we were prepared for this game.”
The Lumberjacks and Vikings played tight in the first half until Northern Arizona used a 7-2 run to take a 37-31 lead into the break. The Lumberjacks extended the run to 16-4 to start the second half and pull away 46-33 just three minutes in. The run was capped off after Andre broke the Vikings press to find Ted McCree for an easy layup.
McCree finished his night with 18 points -- tied for his career high -- and was one of four Lumberjacks in double-figure scoring along with Andre, Shelton and Luke Avdalovic, who scored 18 on 4-of-7 shooting from the arc.
Heading into the game, Murphy knew that rebounding was going to be key to beating Portland State. The Lumberjacks ended up losing the rebounding battle, 45-33, and gave up 18 offensive boards, but held the Vikings' second-chance opportunities in check to just 16 points to the Lumberjacks' 11.
“In the game, obviously we lost the rebounding battle -- you don’t want to do that -- but they’re one of the top offensive rebounding teams in the country because they sell out for the glass,” Murphy said.
The Lumberjacks don’t play for an entire until they will take on one of the Big Sky’s top teams in Northern Colorado (11-6, 5-1 Big Sky). Tipoff is set for 6 p.m. next Saturday in the Skydome.