A college basketball team headed for a Big Sky Conference regular-season championship met a team headed nowhere Saturday night at Eastern Washington University, where a dramatic second-half comeback fell barely short for the frustrated Eagles.
The Northern Arizona Lumberjacks, handed their first conference loss Thursday night at Portland State, regrouped against the last-place Eagles, building a 22-point first-half lead that stood up for a 76-68 victory.
The Eagles (6-17, 2-11) had been eliminated from any Big Sky postseason tournament possibilities earlier in the day when Cal State Northridge defeated Portland State 80-76, only two days after the Vikings had ended NAU’s 11-game winning streak with an overtime win in Portland.
They trailed 42-20 late in the first half and were down by 15 points at halftime, but crept back, finally pulling within four points, 72-68, when Eddie Turner made two free throws with 2:02 to play.
EWU never scored again. The Eagles got a chance to get it closer when the Jacks (18-4, 11-1) missed the next time down, but NAU rebounded a missed shot and pushed its lead to 74-68 after running the clock down to 1 minute.
The Eagles turned the ball over on their next possession, and NAU’s Casey Frank punctuated the win with a monster jam in the final 20 seconds.
“We put ourselves in a position to win at the end,” EWU coach Steve Aggers said, “but we also had put ourselves in a position where we had to play almost perfectly to win.
“You can’t get yourself down 20-some points like that,” Aggers continued. “I’m proud of our comeback, but we expended all our energy getting back into it. I’m not into moral victories - I’m disappointed.”
Travis King hit five 3-point shots and scored all of his 17 points in the second half, and teammate Mike Sims scored 10 after the break. He finished with 12, as did senior Luke Egan.
The Lumberjacks (18-4, 11-1) had some earlier problems, trailing EWU 14-12 after a crowd-pleasing jam by Karim Scott with 14:31 to play in the first half. But after a wisely chosen timeout by NAU coach Ben Howland, the ‘Jacks went on a 27-4 run that included nine points by 7-foot freshman Dan McClintock, who scored 13 in the first half.
“They played like a first-place team,” Aggers said. “They set great screens and didn’t give us any second chances at our end. And they didn’t panic there near the end of the game. They spread us out and stayed away from our traps.”
The Lumberjacks are No. 2 in NCAA Division I field-goal percentage, and hit 52 percent in each half Saturday night. Their main marksman was Andrew Mavis, who hit 6 of 8 from 3-point range and scored 20 points.
Casey Frank added 14, 10 in the second half, and was 7 for 9 from the field. Ross Land scored 10.
N. Arizona 76, E. Washington 68
N. ARIZONA (18-4) - Mavis 7-10 0-0 20, Hix 3-4 1-2 7, Frank 7-9 0-0 14, Land 4-11 0-1 10, Hutchins 2-5 0-0 5, McNair 0-4 0-0 0, Abbott 1-2 0-0 3, Taylor 0-1 3-4 3, Wolthers 0-0 0-0 0, McClintock 5-10 4-6 14. Totals 29-56 8-13 76.
E. WASHINGTON (6-17) - Egan 5-7 0-0 12, Scott 2-2 3-4 7, Sims 6-11 0-0 12, King 5-13 2-4 17, Lewis 1-5 0-0 3, Moss-Kelley 0-2 0-0 0, Claus 0-0 0-0 0, Berger 4-10 0-0 8, Turner 3-7 3-4 9. Totals 26-57 8-12 68.
Halftime-N. Arizona 43, E. Washington 28. 3-Point goals-N. Arizona 10-26 (Mavis 6-8, Hix 0-1, Land 2-9, Hutchins 1-3, McNair 1-3, Abbott 1-2), E. Washington 8-16 (Egan 2-2, King 5-10, Lewis 1-3, Moss-Kelley 0-1). Fouled out-None. Rebounds-N. Arizona 32 (Hix, Frank 7), E. Washington 31 (Scott, Sims 8). Assists-N. Arizona 23 (Land 10), E. Washington 16 (Sims, King 4). Total fouls-N. Arizona 14, E. Washington 13. A-1,109.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.