GAME NOTES: The Texas San-Antonio Roadrunners open the 2013-14 slate with four of their first five games at home, beginning on Saturday night against the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks.
NAU's first season under head coach Jack Murphy in 2012-13 was largely a disappointment, as it finished 8-12 in the Big Sky Conference while going a meager 11-21 overall. The Lumberjacks closed out the campaign on a four-game losing streak, which included an 84-58 setback to Weber State in the conference tournament quarterfinals.
UTSA's first and only season in the Western Athletic Conference was a struggle for the most part, the team going just 3-14 in league play while losing more than half its games overall (10-22), but it put together a surprising run in the conference tournament with wins over San Jose State (67-49) and Louisiana Tech (73-67) before losing to Texas-Arlington (69-53) in the semifinals. The Roadrunners have made the move to Conference USA this season.
This bout marks the first-ever meeting between NAU and UTSA on the hardwood.
Although NAU lost its top scorer from a season ago in Gabe Rogers (17.9 ppg), it has an incumbent playmaker ready to take over that cherished role. As a freshman, DeWayne Russell made a splash by scoring 14.4 points per game while also chipping in with 3.2 assists and 1.5 steals per game. The Lumberjacks' only senior is Max Jacobsen, who scored 9.0 points per game while shooting nearly 60 percent from the field last year. Gaellan Bewernick (6.0 ppg) led the team with 5.9 rebounds per outing. The squad welcomes 11 newcomers to the roster, including Quinton Upshur and Aaseem Dixon, a pair of junior college transfers who started in the backcourt in NAU's exhibition bout with Arizona Christian.
UTSA scored just 64.0 points per game last season, and it faces an uphill battle trying to improve upon that number this time around after losing top scorers Kannon Burrage (17.2 ppg) and Michael Hale III (15.6 ppg). Jeromie Hill appears to be the one who will step up as the club's new go-to scoring option in his senior season after posting 13.1 points and 6.5 rebounds per game in 2012-13. Jordan Sims (6.5 ppg) and Hyjii Thomas (4.8 ppg) will also need to raise their level of production with expanded roles. Edrico McGregor (3.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg), who appeared in all 32 games last season off the bench, is slated to be the team's starting center.
Both clubs put forth sluggish efforts during the 2012-13 season, and the overall lack of talent on both benches remains evident coming into the new campaign. NAU has the game's best player in Russell, and his scoring prowess will be enough to catapult the Lumberjacks to a solid road victory.
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