NAU MBB win third in a row after a thrilling 89-87 shootout over UT Rio Grande Valley
Despite allowing UTRGV to shoot 54.7% from the field, NAU brought the offense as well as Jalen Cone set a career-high in points with 25 to carry the Lumberjacks to a three-game winning streak.
It was certainly a battle on the beach Saturday afternoon as the NAU men’s basketball team went toe-to-toe with UT Rio Grande Valley for 40 minutes.
With neither team having a distinct advantage throughout, it came down to the final possessions and fouls.
Leading the Lumberjacks in the closing seconds was sophomore guard Jalen Cone. On NAU’s final offensive possession, he drove to the basket and was fouled by UTRGV’s Justin Johnson to have a 1-and-1 and put the Lumberjacks up front.
Cone hit the two free throws that sealed the game for NAU in a thrilling 89-87 victory.
“When you play 30+ games a season, there are going to be games like this,” NAU men’s basketball head coach Shane Burcar said. “I thought we played hard even though our execution wasn’t great.”
The game-winning free throws also awarded Cone a collegiate career-high of 25 points, which surpassed a total of 23 points he had at Virginia Tech in a game against Louisville last season.
If one took a look at the Vaqueros’ stat sheet, it could easily be assumed that the team ran away with the victory as UTRGV tallied 87 points on 54.7% shooting. However, when the Vaqueros’ scored, NAU delivered blows right back in what was an offensive barrage throughout the game.
Johnson, a junior wing, dominated NAU as he scored a career-high 35 points on a preposterous 15/18 shooting (83%).
“We couldn’t keep him from going right,” Burcar said. “He was so dominant in getting to the spots he wanted.”
Even with UTRGV’s bountiful offense, no lead extended past six points and the lead was exchanged 12 times.
While the Lumberjacks struggled in the paint allowing 52 points, redshirt freshman forward Carson Towt set a career-high in points as he tallied 15 points on 6/9 shooting. He also grabbed seven rebounds to help NAU win the battle on the boards at +4.
Redshirt junior forward Nik Mains also had a big performance against the Vaqueros as he matched his career-high in points of 20 that he set against Benedictine Mesa on Monday. He also showed a versatile skill set throughout the game where he attacked the rim with assertiveness instead of settling on 3-pointers for most of the game. Mains also led NAU in rebounds with eight.
“You can’t talk about our team having any success without starting with Nik Mains,” Burcar said. “He’s actually what we want at NAU.”
Coming up big in key moments for NAU was junior guard Mason Stark.
The Northern State University transfer and Chandler native hit a pair of 3-pointers late in the second half to put the Lumberjacks on top. Stark finished with a season-high 13 points on 5/8
Foul trouble shook up the rotation for both squads.
After quality performances over the last two games, redshirt sophomore forward Keith Haymon only played 13 minutes after committing four fouls. This turned into a trend for the game as Towt had four fouls and two UTRGV players committed four.
“When we brought Haymon out, we got on a roll and I didn’t put him back in,” Burcar said. “But it wasn’t because he was playing bad or anything like that.”
NAU will come back to Flagstaff on a three-game winning streak and a record of 3-2. It’s the first time the Lumberjacks have been over .500 since closing out the 2019-20 season. Coming up next for the team is an encore showdown against UTRGV inside Rolle Activity Center Monday evening at 6:00 p.m.