NAU MBB surrenders over 50% shooting again to UTRGV; splits series with 82-80 loss at home
NAU men's basketball had another tight contest with UT Rio Grande Valley. This time, however, it was a loss for the Lumberjacks as the team settled for 40 3-point attempts throughout the game.
At the final buzzer, NAU ran a play to set up redshirt sophomore Keith Haymon for a game-winning 3-pointer down two points.
Unfortunately, for the Lumberjacks, Haymon missed the shot that would’ve made SportsCenter’s top-10 plays on a Monday night. Instead, the result was an 82-80 loss for NAU in a game where the Lumberjacks missed many 3-pointers.
The Lumberjacks took 61 shots in total throughout the game. 40 of those shots came from 3-point range in what was a night of gluttony from beyond the arc for NAU.
“That’s part of the deal,” NAU men’s basketball head coach Shane Burcar said. “I thought we had great shots. Out of the 40 shots, let’s take four out of the equation and we have 36 great shots from really good shooters.”
Junior Jalen Cone was just 1/6 from 3-point range, but set a new career-high with 29 points on 10/21 shooting to lead the game in scoring.
“I was just being aggressive,” Cone said. “Their man-to-man defense wasn’t helping the gaps much, so I saw the time to get downhill and created shots for myself.”
Entering Monday’s sequel against UT Rio Grande Valley, NAU shot just under 39% from beyond the arc. The Lumberjacks looked to continue this hot start from 3-point range, but instead of moving the ball and finding good shots, NAU played a game of live by the three and die by the three.
Even with the physicality and athleticism UTRGV possessed, the Vaqueros entered Monday evening short-handed as junior LaQuon Butler was out for the game after suffering an injury Saturday afternoon.
UTRGV played Monday’s game with just seven players dressed and the loss of Butler was a big one as he had 16 points in the first game against NAU.
Instead of attacking the basket and drawing fouls on a team lacking depth, the Lumberjacks settled and forced 3-pointers in the first half as 18 of their 31 shots in the first 20 minutes came from beyond the arc.
This trend continued for NAU as 22 of their 30 shots in the second half came from 3-point range.
“I definitely think we settled a little bit,” Cone said. “We tell our guys to shoot, shoot, shoot, so I think this is definitely something to look forward to, but we’ve got to score more in the paint.”
While NAU was able to cut into UTRGV’s lead, and even take the lead in spurts through the second half, it came down to efficiency as the Vaqueros were much more accurate shooting-wise than the Lumberjacks.
As a team, UTRGV shot a ridiculous 62% in the first half and the team hit six of their first seven 3-pointers. NAU also made six in the first half, but on 18 3-point attempts.
“You have to look in the mirror as an individual and as a coach and go ‘how does that happen?’,” Burcar said. “How do you give up 62% when you’re trying?
Senior Xavier Johnson hit his first three 3-point shots and was in such a rhythm that he even hit one from the “U” on NAU’s center-court logo. Johnson finished the half with 13 and led the team through all 40 minutes with 20 points.
With NAU spamming the shot stick from 3-point range, they were able to make it a tight game late thanks to Haymon hitting a couple in the second half and redshirt junior Nik Mains, who was the best from beyond the arc for the Lumberjacks as he had 17 points off 4/10 shooting from 3-point range.
As the clock ran down, NAU had their opportunities as the teams swapped leads.
With the game tied in the closing seconds, junior Justin Johnson went up with a floater that was missed. However, the Lumberjacks couldn’t secure the most important of rebounds and freshman Donte Houston Jr. secured the board and put in a layup to give UTRGV the lead with three seconds to go.
“We got to fight more,” Cone said. “I didn’t fight at the end there. I think I could’ve saved us the game if I got that stop. They had more intensity than us.”
Out of the timeout, NAU threw the ball down court to Mains who found Haymon open on the run and with a decent look, Haymon missed the 3-pointer to symbolize the strategy that led to the Lumberjacks’ third loss of 2021.
In both games against UTRGV, NAU allowed over 50% shooting. Monday, it was a 52.7% scoring clip the Vaqueros carried to the victory.
“You can fake tough and try to keep the guy in front and give the “olé” or you keep the guy in front of you and make him shoot over you,” Burcar said.
The NAU men fall to 3-3 on the season as UTRGV improves to 3-2.
The Lumberjacks will host Cal State Fullerton (2-2) Wednesday night at 6:00 p.m. MST inside Rolle Activity Center.