NAU locks down, upsets Eastern Washington

The NAU bench reacts during Saturday's 73-69 win over Eastern Washington.

Kelsey Metoxen

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — The Northern Arizona men’s basketball team held first-place Eastern Washington scoreless for the final three minutes, 15 seconds as the Lumberjacks took down the Eagles 73-69 Saturday at the Walkup Skydome.

"We had one big play right after another," NAU coach Jack Murphy said. "Our guys dug deep today and didn’t give up. Eastern Washington came in here today and definitely made us play at a high intensity. I’m so proud of the way we played down the stretch. Big games are won when we play as a team with the never give up attitude and that’s what we had today."

There were 17 lead changes, the game was tied 11 times, but it was NAU that prevailed in the end. Senior guard Aaseem Dixon hit four three-pointers leading to a game-high 23 points to go along with seven rebounds.

Eastern Washington (20-7, 11-3 Big Sky) went into the game with the best offense in the Big Sky averaging 80.5 points per game and the Lumberjacks answered the bell in the first half allowing only 32 points. NAU held the nation’s leading scorer Tyler Harvey to just nine points shooting 3-for-9 from the field.

EWU’s offense in the first 20 minutes came in the lane with 14 points inside the paint. The Lumberjacks countered with the three-ball shooting 40 percent in the first half. Ako Kaluna came off the bench to score a quick six points off two made three-pointers but was forced to sit most of the first half due to foul trouble. Every NAU starter scored in the first half with Kris Yanku leading the way with nine points, three assists and two rebounds. Leading the Eagles in the first twenty minutes was big man Venky Jois with 11 points and three boards as EWU went into halftime with a 32-29 lead over NAU.

NAU made five of their six field goals to start the second half taking a 41-38 lead off a three-pointer from Dixon. Harvey started to pick up the pace in the second half scoring 11 points in the final 20 minutes. NAU took the advantage with 2:21 left in the game off a free throw from Yanku that made it 70-69 and the Lumberjacks didn’t look back as they held EWU to just 38.3 percent from the field. NAU’s final three points of the game came at the charity stripe with Yanku knocking down two free throws and Kaluna adding another one.

Eastern Washington missing its final five shots hindered its efforts of a win in the Skydome, making it the second straight year the Eagles fall to NAU on the road.

Going into the game it was a battle of the Big Sky’s best three-point shooting team in Eastern Washington (41.3%) and the league’s best three-point field percentage defense in NAU (33%). The ‘Jacks did their job as EWU went 8-for-32 from beyond the arc shooting 25 percent.

Adding to NAU’s scoring spree was Yanku who finished with 19 points, eight assists and six rebounds. Kaluna added 14 points, including a trio of treys.

Harvey netted 22 points for the Eagles going 6-for-19 from the field and 3-for-13 from three-point range. Bogdan Bliznyuk recorded 16 points and six boards, while Venky Jois added 15 points, fouling out with 2:21 left to play.