FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — Junior Max Jacobsen had a career-high 22 points and nine rebounds to lead Northern Arizona to an 87-80 victory in the Big Sky opener over Montana State Monday night. The Lumberjacks snapped their 15-game conference losing streak dating to last season and improved to 4-5 on the season.
“It was good to play so well after a 12-day layoff,” said head coach Jack Murphy. “I thought the guys came out early in the first five minutes and set a tone offensively for how we wanted to play.”
Despite not playing since Dec. 5, NAU shot 62.1 percent in the first half, building a 20-point lead over the first 20 minutes.
“We were eager to get out here,” said senior guard Stallon Saldivar. “Coming out and shooting the ball so well really helped our confidence. It was incredible to see. We were sharing the ball and getting good looks.”
Jacobsen, whose previous career-high was 11 points, scored eight of the first 11 points in the game for the Lumberjacks, who held the Bobcats to just eight field goals and 33 percent from the field in the first half.
“Max Jacobsen did a great job in the interior for us,” Murphy said.
Montana State pushed the Lumberjacks in the second half, hitting six three-pointers over the final 20 minutes. The Bobcats cut the lead to 10 points with 10 minutes left, but NAU answered down the stretch to seal the game.
“They started making their run at the 16-minute mark,” Saldivar said. “We did not have the same energy as we did in the first half. We have to fix that and play 40 minutes of basketball.”
Montana State cut the lead to five points twice in the final five minutes. But NAU got a big bucket from Jacobsen with five minutes left to push the lead back to seven points and the Lumberjacks went 6 for 6 at the line in the final minute to prevent the Bobcats from getting any closer.
Jacobsen finished with 22 points on 9-of-12 shooting from the field.
“My teammates did a great job getting me the ball and I finished when they got it to me,” said Jacobsen.
He was one of five players to score in double figures for the Lumberjacks. Freshman DeWayne Russell scored 16 points, while sophomore Gaellan Bewernick added 13 points. Saldivar finished with 12 points and six assists, becoming the 17th player in Big Sky Conference history to surpass 400 assists for his career.
Antonio Biglow led Montana State (2-6) with 15 points, while Flavien Davis added 14.
NAU plays host to Big Sky Conference preseason favorite Montana on Wednesday at 6:35 p.m. in the Walkup Skydome for Coconino Community College Night. The game can be seen on FOX Sports Arizona Plus.