Flagstaff, Ariz. — Josh Wilson’s desperation three-pointer with less than a second to go ended a Western Kentucky University rally from a 14-point deficit, giving Northern Arizona a 64-61 non-conference basketball victory over the Hilltoppers at the J. Lawrence Walkup Skydome.
After Orlando Mendez-Valdez tied the game 61-61 with 5.8 seconds left on a three from the left corner, Wilson took the inbounds pass and went the length of the floor before pulling up and hitting the shot over a pair of defenders. It was the Lumberjacks’ (4-3) only three of the second half.
WKU (5-2) trailed by as many as 14 points with 15 minutes left after NAU scored the first seven points following the intermission as part of a 15-3 spurt that began before the break. The Toppers came back despite shooting just 24 percent (7-of-29) in the second half.
The rally started with a three from Mendez-Valdez, who was 4-of-7 from beyond the arc in finishing with a team-high-tying 14 points. Tyrone Brazelton, who also ended the contest with 14 points, cut the Lumberjack lead to single digits with 12-and-a-half minutes to go when he sank a jumper in the paint. That shot sparked a streak of seven straight WKU points, one he closed out with another basket in the lane that made the score 48-44 with 11 minutes left.
Another Brazelton basket with 10-and-a-half minutes remaining made it a three-point game, 49-46. A layup from Ryan McCurdy — who supplied 10 points and five rebounds off the bench — pushed the ’Jack lead back to seven at 8:35, as the Toppers made it a one-possession game twice in the last five minutes on two free throws from Steffphon Pettigrew and Brazelton.
A pair of Boris Siakam foul shots with two minutes left cut the deficit to one, 57-56. Kyle Landry and Courtney Lee traded two free throws, and when Wilson made a driving layup with the shot clock running down NAU led 61-58 with 12 seconds to go.
While the Lumberjacks shot 64.3 percent in the second half and 53.7 percent for the game, they only had 14 attempts from the field in the final 20 minutes. NAU was also 9-of-18 at the foul line in letting the Toppers back into the contest, and it committed 22 turnovers.
WKU shot just 33.3 percent from the floor overall, but made 15-of-16 free-throw attempts after the break.
“We knew coming into the game that this was a good team and it would be tough for us,” Hilltopper head coach Darrin Horn said. “When you come out and start the way we did and get yourself into that kind of hole, and then have to fight uphill not just in deficit but in trying to play the way you want to play, it’s tough to do against a team like this — especially when you’re on the road.
“We did some good things in the second half, but we need to do a better job coming out ready. I take responsibility for that, this definitely didn’t look like a team that was prepared to play today.”
Nate Geiser led all players with 15 points for the Lumberjacks, hitting 3-of-5 from three-point range. Landry posted the first double-double against the Toppers this year with 14 points and 10 rebounds, while Wilson finished with eight points and a game-high five assists.
After Brazelton’s jump shot with little over six minutes to go drew the Toppers within one point, 28-27, WKU missed eight straight shots as well as a pair of free throws while NAU went on an 8-0 run. Zarko Comagic started the spurt with a layup at 5:52, Matt Johnson made a two foul shots and McCurdy scored twice in the final two-plus minutes. His short jumper with 55 seconds left gave the Lumberjacks their largest lead of the opening period, 36-27.
Ty Rogers ended the Hilltopper drought seconds before the buzzer with a three from the left wing.
But, NAU came out after the intermission and scored the first seven points — including four from Geiser — to push the lead to 43-30 with 17:30 remaining. McCurdy’s jumper at 15:07 gave NAU its biggest edge, 46-32.
There were three lead changes in the opening three minutes before Landry’s layup gave the Lumberjacks an 8-7 advantage that would stretch to five points, 14-9, when Geiser hit a three from the left corner with 13:14 remaining to cap an 8-2 run. WKU recovered, tying the score 16-16 just over two minutes later on a basket by Mendez-Valdez, while Brazelton gave the Hilltoppers their final lead 17-16 at the midway point of the half when he connected on the second of two free throws.
Lee was the only other Topper in double figures with 11 points. Rogers grabbed a team-high six rebounds in 15 minutes.
WKU returns home for a 7 p.m. (CST) contest Wednesday against Nebraska. It will be the Hilltoppers’ first appearance at E.A. Diddle Arena in two-and-a-half weeks.