NCAA Basketball

Murphy, Northern Arizona looking for turnaround

(AP Photo/Young Kwak, File)

By JOHN MARSHALL

AP Basketball Writer

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) Northern Arizona set a record for losses last season and is in the midst of its worst three-year stretch in 27 years.

Lumberjacks coach Jack Murphy said something needs to change.

"The three-year stretch we've had, it's not good enough. It's not good enough," he said. "We can be better on the court. We have great young men, good representatives of NAU and Flagstaff. Now we have to put the winning along with that. It's very important that we have a very good year this year."

NAU has been on a difficult run since reaching the title game of the CollegeInsider.com tournament in 2015.

The Lumberjacks won five games in an injury-plagued 2015-16 season and nine the following year when injuries again hit hard. Last season, Northern Arizona again had a key injury early in the season, when Stanford graduate transfer Malcolm Allen broke his foot one minute into the third game. Even so, the Lumberjacks had chances to rebound, yet could never get into a groove.

NAU had an impressive win at Bakersfield after opening the season with seven straight losses and followed that with a home win over San Diego Christian.

The two-game stretch turned into the Lumberjacks' only winning streak of the season.

Plagued by poor perimeter shooting and turnovers, Northern Arizona finished with a school-record 27 losses with just five wins. The Lumberjacks finished 2-16 in the Big Sky Conference, were last in the league in 3-point shooting at 31 percent and last in overall shooting percentage at 40 percent.

"When you miss a lot of easy baskets, you miss a lot of open 3s, it's not going to go well," Murphy said. "Looking back at it, I'm not sure we had the right mix of talent to compete in the Big Sky. We had high-character kids, they played hard, we lost a lot of close games early, but it was one of those things where we've got to get more talented at certain positions."

Shortly after the season ended, Murphy met with new athletic director Mike Marlow to discuss the direction of the program. Marlow, who started in mid-January after serving as deputy AD at Washington State, opted to keep Murphy instead of taking the program in a new direction following an 11-46 stretch that was NAU's worst since 1988-91.

"Mike didn't want to blow everything up. Not just the basketball program, but the entire athletics department," Murphy said. "He saw the guys were playing hard. We just needed to make a couple adjustments. He's giving us this year to make those adjustments."

Murphy and the Lumberjacks should have an opportunity to turn it around next season.

They lost guards Torry Johnson and JoJo Anderson to transfers, but have a strong core of returning players and arguably Murphy's most talented incoming class.

Up front, the Lumberjacks should be in good shape with Corey Brown, Brooks DeBisschop and Isaiah Thomas returning. Sharp-shooting swingman Chris Bowling also is back, along with guards Karl Harris and Carlos Hines, who showed flashes during his freshman season in 2017-18.

Murphy added three junior college players who should have an immediate impact: scorers Davon Bolton and Ted McCree, along with versatile small forward Jonathan Andre. Incoming freshman Cameron Shelton was one of the top point guards in Southern California and Keith Haymon of south Texas is a superb shooter.

"All the guys coming in are very talented," Murphy said. "It's as talented a group as we've had come in here as newcomers."

Now the Lumberjacks just need to pull it all together to pull out of this tailspin.

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Updated August 10, 2018

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