Let me let former Weber State and current Big Sky Conference Tournament color analyst Joe Cravens sum up the Northern Arizona men’s basketball experience prior to championship week: “A few weeks ago it looked like they had one foot in the grave, and one foot in a banana peel.”
The No. 9-seeded Lumberjacks are headed to the Big Sky title game with an improbable run through the tournament.
As Mid-Major Madness readers already might know, I am a graduate of the great school in the pines NAU and covered the Dark Days of NAU basketball from 2016-21. By Dark Days, I mean:
i have been ready for this since i covered NAU losing to Embry Riddle Aeronautical Institute at home in 2018. pic.twitter.com/DjiI8ZMko7— Lance Hartzler (@lance_hartz) March 8, 2023
Whatever happens tomorrow against Weber State or Montana State doesn’t matter. The vibes are immaculate and the team that played the most close games in the Big Sky (a league chock full of close games) just boat-raced perennial solid program Montana, 83-71.
But not just a boat race, revenge. The last time Northern Arizona sniffed the Big Sky title game was a 2015 semifinals loss to Montana on the Grizzlies’ home arena up in Missoula, Montana.
For those that remember: it was wild, to say the least.
For those that don’t: NAU guard Kris Yanku buried a free throw to tie the game at 59 with eight seconds left. Montana’s Jordan Gregory went coast to coast for a layup and a two-point lead. Mass confusion ensues as the buzzer sounds, but there was still time left on the clock (.4 seconds). During said confusion, a member of the Griz program leaves the bench and enters the court thinking the was over — this made NAU head coach Jack Murphy pissed, as his team should have received free throws and possession because of the no-no done by Montana’s bench. Alas that didn’t happen, and the Grizzlies would win and Murphy and Montana head coach Travis DeCuire had an all-time mad handshake. Check out this article in the Missoulian for a video of the fracas.
We can officially say NAU isn’t just a cross country school now.
In the mean time, get to know some of my favorite Jacks below with highlights from a wondrous win over Montana.
Small, 3-point chucking point guard Jalen Cone:
Son of the Coach, Liam Lloyd.
Man who has played more basketball at NAU than literally anyone, Nik Mains:
Wednesday night can’t come soon enough. See you then, Lumberjacks.