GAME NOTES: The Loyola Marymount Lions will return to the City of Angels with a perfect record as they get set to host the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks in a non-conference tilt at Gersten Pavilion.
NAU is 1-2 entering the contest, which will conclude its four-game road swing to begin the campaign. The Lumberjacks began their season with an 11- point win over Texas-San Antonio, but they left the Lone Star State with a .500 record after being routed by Texas Tech. Coach Jack Murphy nearly guided the team to an upset on Friday as it held a 40-30 lead over USC at halftime, however the Trojans rallied back to take a 67-63 decision. The Lumberjacks nearly downed their Pac-12 opponent in their last outing despite connecting on only 31.9 percent of their field goal attempts and being outrebounded, 45-41.
Coach Max Good instilled some confidence in his squad in 2012-13 after concluding the regular season on a 14-game losing slide as it reeled off three consecutive wins in the West Coast Conference Tournament before having the run ended by WCC giant Gonzaga. That momentum has carried over into Good's sixth year at the helm of the program. The Lions survived their first two bouts as they defeated Grand Canyon, 78-75, in their season opener and took down South Dakota State in a nine-point victory to go perfect in the San Diego Classic. LMU then overcame a five-point deficit in the final minute of its game on Thursday to notch a 74-73 win at Long Beach State.
This will be the 10th meeting in the all-time series between NAU and LMU. The Lions own a 7-2 record versus the Lumberjacks thanks to their 92-86 win in overtime at NAU on Dec. 5, 2012.
NAU has a pair of junior college transfer guards leading the charge this season in Aaseem Dixon and Quinton Upshur, who also played a season at VMI. The 6-foot-5 Upshur was limited to only 25 minutes versus USC due to foul trouble, yet he still scored 18 points and grabbed four rebounds. Dixon spearheaded the charge with a team-high 20 points and senior forward Max Jacobsen contributed 16 points. While Jacobsen and Dixon are tied for the team-lead at 16 ppg and Upshur is a close third at 15.7 ppg, NAU does not have many more scoring options beyond its trio. The Lumberjacks showed they are not a very deep team when Upshur got into foul trouble versus the Trojans, who stormed back when he was on the bench.
LMU has one of the most underrated point guards in the nation in Anthony Ireland. The 5-10 senior is off to a hot start with averages of 16 points, six assists and five rebounds per game. Ireland took over down the stretch versus LBSU as he tallied six points and two rebounds over the final 2:30, including the go-ahead makes at the charity stripe with only five seconds left. He finished the game with 14 points on 3-of-13 shooting from the floor, but knocked down 7-of-8 attempts at the free-throw line to keep LMU perfect. His supporting cast performed well versus the 49ers as well. Evan Payne provided a huge spark for the Lions off the bench with 18 points in 23 minutes of action. Ben Dickinson posted 14 points and eight rebounds, while Gabe Levin scored 12 points.
NAU is definitely a program on the rise. The Lumberjacks showed they have no fear in their first Los Angeles outing and will present a challenge for LMU if their star players can avoid foul trouble. However, NAU's new additions have a long way to go before they will be able to match Ireland, who will be looking to perform more efficiently in the early stages after his cold start in Long Beach.
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