CHICAGO – Despite their effort late in the game, the Northern Arizona University men's basketball team could not extinguish the University of Illinois-Chicago Flames, as the 'Jacks fell 75-65 in their final non-conference bout of the season.
Senior Ako Kaluna carried the Lumberjacks (3-10) tonight inside the UIC Pavilion, dropping a career-high four three-pointers and a season-best 22 points, while fellow senior Jordyn Martin netted 10 points—securing his third-consecutive double-digit point game—and snatched a team-high six boards.
Senior Jaleni Neely also dished out a career-high nine assists tonight to go along with six points.
"We just didn't play with confidence at times, and a lot of it was our own effort," said Head Coach Jack Murphy. "I thought the group that ended the game played their tails off, cut into the lead and executed offensively. I thought the first half was okay, but we didn't build on that for the majority of the second half."
The first half was run-and-gun from the opening tip, as the Lumberjacks raced out to an 8-5 lead heading into the first media timeout. Of the team's 14 first-half rebounds, eight of them came in the first six minutes of the game.
The Flames would not be quieted easily, though, as they put together an 11-4 run midway through the half. UIC extended its lead as large as nine, and were shooting 50 percent from three-point land at one point in the first.
Before halftime, however, the NAU defense stepped up in a big way, allowing the offense to piece together a 12-5 run and head into the locker room down 34-32. Both Mike Green and Marcus DeBerry connected on buckets from long range to aid that end-of-the-half rally.
NAU was 3-1 this season when scoring at least 32 points in the first half, but that trend took a hit Tuesday night beginning with Flames' offensive tear to open the second. Eight minutes in, the UIC lead went from two to 12 as NAU struggled to stuff the cylinder. The Lumberjacks went 1-of-11 from the field in the first 8:07 of the second, while the Flames managed to string together a 16-6 spurt during that stretch.
In the final seven minutes of the game, the Lumberjacks did go 9-of-12 from the field on the back of three three-pointers from Kaluna, but at that point it was just too little too late. The Flames shot 57 percent in the second half and 47.5 percent for the game, while the Lumberjacks shot 40.7 percent from the field. Fourteen NAU turnovers led to 20 UIC points, while the Flames outscored the 'Jacks in the paint, 30-28 (24-14 in the second).
"The turnovers are becoming an issue," said Murphy. "We have to take care of the basketball. We need to be locked in because our next game is the 'first' of our season: Southern Utah at home. They're a very good ball club, and we've got to be ready to go on New Year's Eve."
As Murphy referenced above, the Lumberjacks will now head into and open up Big Sky play against Southern Utah at home on Dec. 31. Tip is set for 12 p.m. MST from the J. Lawrence Walkup Skydome on New Year's Eve.